Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The journey of a Djokovic fan #RafoleXLIV

It's that time of the year again. The day that Novak Djokovic plays Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros. As an unapologetic Djokovic fan, this is the day I wait for every year, hoping that this is finally the year that Djokovic dethrones Nadal at the major that he has dominated in a way that no other person has ever dominated any single event.

After Djokovic defeated Nadal in the 2011 US Open final, priority numero uno instantly became, Djokovic winning Roland Garros. In his first try, Djokovic reached his first career final at the terre batue, where Nadal downed him in four sets.

Then in 2013, came the most painful loss for every Djokovic fan. The Serb led 4-3 with a break lead in the fifth set, and infamously touched the net (Mom, I touched the net. That was the worst day of my life.) only for Nadal to point it out, get the break back, and go on to win his eighth Roland Garros crown.

That meant another year of waiting. It was a long year, and the intensity built with every match, but Djokovic got himself right back where he wanted to be - in a Roland Garros final with Rafael Nadal. That was supposed to be the day, but once again Djokovic double faulted on championship point.

I thought that year long wait was tough, but as soon as Djokovic's second delivery was called long, my first thought was "another year of waiting."

I have been a sports fan my entire life, but waiting now for four years for one thing has been unlike anything else in my life as a sports fan. Every year seems longer and my desire for Djokovic to finally do it only grows stronger.

Djokovic just turned 28 years old, so there is no guarantee that he will one day do it like I once thought there was. In fact, if he is ever going to do it, this is the year.

When the draw came out, unlike in 2013, I was not disappointed to see Nadal in Djokovic's quarter. One way or another Djokovic has to go through Nadal to get the title, and if he won the title with someone else beating Nadal for him, it wouldn't mean as much. I would go as far as to say that if Djokovic beats Nadal and then loses in the semifinals, I can come away from the tournament happy.

Opportunity knocks though. There is no doubting that this is the weakest Nadal has been at any time since Djokovic became a slam contender. He looked good in his first four wins, but he never spent much time on court and was never faced any scoreboard pressure.

I would say that Nadal's form in the early rounds is as good as how he was in 2014. However, I would be more worried if he was playing five sets every round, getting a lot of match time. I know after Rome 2014, that Nadal struggling in the early rounds in not an indicator of more struggles to come.

The truth is that Nadal is more vulnerable earlier in tournaments. Just ask Steve Darcis, Lukas Rosol, John Isner, or even Robin Soderling. This quarterfinal meeting is their earliest meeting going back to 2006, where Djokovic simply was not physically ready to step on the same court as Nadal.

Nadal's quick wins in the first four rounds won't give him any of the confidence he needs when Djokovic gets a set. It doesn't provide him with the self-belief in the tight moments. In reality, having your first real test at a tournament come against the No. 1 player in the world will be an extremely difficult situation to manage.

If Djokovic does finally get a win over Nadal at Roland Garros on his seventh try, I'm not sure how I will react. Relief might actually be my first reaction, because I expect a win this time around. That will be the happiest moment of my life as a sports fan... or even in my life in general.

If tomorrow isn't the day that it finally happens, I'll start preparing for another long year. I will likely continue watching the tournament, unsure of who to cheer for. On one hand, if  Djokovic can't beat Nadal, I would hate to see someone else do it, and be left with thoughts of what if. On the other hand, watching Nadal celebrate a 10th Roland Garros title, expanding his lead over Djokovic in the GOAT discussion would be a tough pill to swallow.

All this to say that my happiness for the next few months at least depends entirely on what transpires on Philippe Chatrier tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to be in class when the match starts, but only in the physical sense. I'm going to have my phone open with live scores the whole time and as soon as class ends I'm pulling out my computer to find a stream.

It's not the ideal way to watch tennis, but my way of watching tennis is rarely ideal, whether it is staying up all night to watch the 2012 Australian Open, sprinting home from school to catch the start of the 2010 US Open semifinals, or getting up at 2 a.m. to watch Viktor Troicki play a first round challenger match on a laggy stream. I suppose, if this is the time Djokovic does it, this is a fitting way to see it happen.


  1. I am as big a fan of Djokovic as you are (possibly), and I shared the yearly eager anticipation, the disappointment of defeat and the sense of starting back from scratch every time we had to reset the countdown. So first of all, congratulations on finding such beautiful and accurate words to describe those feelings. I hope you were able to enjoy the match.
    That being said, I felt great after the final set, but when the thrill, the excitement and the beer wore off I had a nagging feeling that this victory, as great an achievement as it is, does not mean as much as it would have meant had it come in the 2013 semis. Maybe that's just me being hard to please, but I was wondering what your thoughts were now that the war is won, so to speak.
    Also, what comes next? Career Slam? Grand Slam? World domination? The sense that any achievement would be within Djokovic's reach makes the struggle feel less special. Less meaningful. Then again, maybe I'm hard to please *and* in need of being on the underdog's side.
    I really like your blog. I think I'll be checking it out on the regular!

    Occam's Katana

    1. Thanks for the kind comments! The celebration after the victory was massive. Certainly it wasn't nearly as sweet as it would have been if it had come in 2013 or even 2012 and 2014. Nadal simply wasn't at his best. However, finally getting that monkey off his back was such a sweet feeling. Unfortunately, Djokovic fell two sets short of the title once again. For the last few years, it has been as if Nadal is the only one in Djokovic's way from victory, so losing to Wawrinka after leading by a set really hurt. I now have more doubts than ever that Djokovic will ever win the title. It just takes one bad day for Djokovic and one good day for an opponent to create another year of waiting. And how many more years will Djokovic be contending for titles at slams? Still, I am now convinced that Djokovic does not absolutely need a RG title to be part of the GOAT debate. It would certainly help his resume, but he already has one of the most complete resumes. All he lacks for now is volume. He has won 3 of 4 slams, 8 of 9 masters, year-end finals, Davis Cup, and Olympic bronze. That is already a very wide range of success. More than any other player ever. Now he just needs to keep winning these same tournaments. If he wins Cincy, Olympic Gold, and RG, that would be amazing, but it isn't absolutely necessary either.