What a difference a year makes. Watching a replay on the Tennis Channel of Monday’s incredible championship final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the U.S Open, an epic battle with a misleading ultimate score of 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1, was like witnessing two gladiators engaged in a relentless duel of prodigious proportions. Had to experience it again just to make sure that my initial impression of the match as one of the greatest I’d ever seen in men’s tennis was justified. It was.
Tables turned from 2010, defending champion Nadal nevertheless played at his absolute best (and got nowhere). It crystallized Djokovic for me as something of a sui generis tennis creation, perhaps unlike anything seen previously in the sport: a double whammy of power and shotmaking finesse, along with a seemingly endless wingspan between one leg and the other that conjures Batman spreading his cape, allowing him to get to balls outside conventional human reach. He displays awe-struck bafflement after executing particularly spectacular shots, seemingly as surprised at his legerdemain as the spectators themselves. The 24-year-old’s remarkable results in 2011 are now being called the most impressive calendar-year record in the annals of tennis. (“The greatest year in the history of our sport,” according to John McEnroe.)
Supernova or short-term shooting star remains to be seen, but for the moment, the sensational Serbian is something to watch. (And an unexpectedly good dancer, too.)