11 septiembre 2007

Joker in the Pack Holds All the Aces

I can't say I have broken the domination... but I will be a big danger for the future.

Novak Djokovic is celebrating his second ATP Masters Series title of the season at the trendy Italian restaurant Buona Notte, a popular hangout for Montreal's young, rich and beautiful. Dining on risotto and steak, Djokovic's eye is taken by the coincidental arrival of Rafael Nadal, the man whom one day earlier he had dismissed in the Rogers Masters semifinals.
A short time later, Nadal instructs his waiter to send a bottle of champagne to the champion's table.

"It was a very good bottle," says the 20-year-old. "I went over to his table to thank him and we saluted each other with the champagne. I didn't know too much about Rafa and you can't judge someone by the way they are on the court. It was a very nice gesture."

Despite being the No. 2 and No. 3 players in the world and sharing the same media manager, Djokovic and Nadal engage only on a limited basis, a deeper friendship hindered in large part by language barriers. Djokovic speaks four languages but not Spanish, leaving the players to communicate in English, Nadal's No. 3 language and one in which he is not proficient. What connects them is business: a common goal to challenge Roger Federer for the ATP World No. 1 ranking.

For three years Federer and Nadal have dominated the men's game, but Djokovic is giving every indication that he is ready to break the duopoly. In Montreal not only did he beat Nadal in the semis and Federer 7-6 in the third in the final, he also took out then-No. 3 Andy Roddick in the quarters, becoming the first player since Boris Becker in 1994 to beat the top three players in the world in the same tournament.

"I can't say I have broken the domination because it's only one tournament," Djokovic says. "We have many more tournaments this year to come and many more years to come. I am still only 20 years old. They are still the best two players in the world. But I can say that I can challenge them and that I will be a big danger for the future."

Video: Watch Djokovic impersonate Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal.
During the past three years fans have been treated to the engrossing Federer-Nadal rivalry and during the 1990s the Sampras-Agassi rivalry was on of the most riveting the game has seen. But you have to look back even further to a find the last time that a three-way rivalry headlined the sport. In the mid to late 1980s you had Lendl-Becker-Edberg and before that it was McEnroe-Connors-Lendl and, earlier still, Borg-Connors-McEnroe.

Don't expect Djokovic to vow to "chase that S.O.B. Federer to the ends of the earth," as Connors once famously said of Borg, but, at the same time, don't underestimate Djokovic's desire to be No. 1 or his conviction that he will get there.

"He's cocky, but in a good way," John McEnroe said of Djokovic while commentating for USA Network during the US Open. "He's at No. 3 already and there's definitely more upside. This guy is not going away. He says he wants to be the No. 1 player in the world, and that's saying something with Federer and Nadal ahead of you." More...