My Two Hundred Dinars: The More Things Change…

Posted on September 9, 2013

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Men’s tennis is in a strange position these days. After years of being dominated by four men (well, two and then three and then four to be exact), 2013 has seen the game opening up a bit. The big names started losing earlier in Grand Slams, meaning new names were featured in the finals and semis for the first time in a while. Whilst David Ferrer made the final four in Australia and the final in Roland Garros, where he defeated Tsonga in the semi final. Roger Federer didn’t reach a final for the first time in oh, I don’t know, forever. The Wimbledon semi finals featured Juan Martin del Potro, an immensely talented Argentine who has been plagued by injuries, and Jerzy Janowicz, a temperamental Pole who at seed number 24 became the lowest ranking Grand Slam semi finalist since Jurgen Melzer reached the Roland Garros semi finals in 2010 seeded 22. Federer and Murray have fallen earlier than expected at the US Open this year as well, with Stanislas Wawrinka and Roland Gasquet making the semis.

This isn’t to say the next level of tennis players shouldn’t be making these big matches. Wawrinka’s performance against Murray in the quarters here showed that to a tee. He bullied Murray, to the point where the commentators started referring to Murray as the underdog. Federer fell against the Spaniard Tommy Robredo, who is going through something of a renaissance in his career. Richard Gasquet has always threatened to do this, being one of the most naturally talented players in the game. His one handed back hand for example, is as elegant as anything in all of the sport. Still, he has been criticized for his defensive ways, and hasn’t reached the heights he should have. His time may be coming. Del Potro should be up there with the top of the top, but his wrists aren’t up to it.

There are also a crop of very exciting young players who will come to dominate the next generation of male tennis. Gregor Dmitrov, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic, all young and all full of talent and potential, who can rule the game in the same way the current big four have. Dmitrov in particular is as talented as anyone who has come through, earning him his Mini-Federer nickname. After years of assuming the same four players will contest the semi finals, it seems the game will open up and add the excitement that sport so desperately needs.

Still, as the title of this would suggest, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The four Grand Slam finals this year have been contested by depressingly predictable opponents. In Australia, Djokovic (seeded 1) beat Murray (seeded 3). In Roland Garros, Nadal (3) beat Ferrer (4). At Wimbledon, Murray (2) beat Djokovic (1). Tonight, Djokovic (1) takes on Nadal (2). Not a seed outside the top four, as I’m sure you’ll notice. Sure, the best are supposed to reach the big games, the best are supposed to rise to the top, this is to be expected. If you take the intrigue and excitement out of sport however, you take the interest out of it. In the same way that Darts was boring for years because it became more about who Phil Taylor would beat than who would win the title, or how terrible Scottish football has been because of the oh, two teams, or when Australia were smashing everyone in cricket. If the outcome isn’t in doubt, why should I care?

That’s the contradiction though. The outcome is very much in doubt tonight. Rafael Nadal has had an immense return following his injuries, winning 21 straight matches on hard courts and only dropping serve once in the tournament. He’s had an incredible year, despite his early loss at Wimbledon. His injuries have led to a more aggressive style, for an already pretty damn aggressive player. Most people will have Nadal down as their favourite this evening, and for good reason.

But he is up against the most consistent player in world tennis, a man who has been the top man for two years now. Novak Djokovic still doesn’t get the plaudits and love from critics that Nadal, Murray and Federer get, but maybe this works to his advantage. Instead of being lauded as the worlds greatest, he just goes out and plays like it. His run to the final here has been machine-like, only looking in doubt in that epic semi against Wawrinka, who I’m sure will break into the top five next year. Whilst Nadal is in red hot form, it’d be a brave man to bet against Djokovic this evening.

The winner tonight? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll go out on a limb and say Djokovic in five, because Serbs. There’s no getting away from the fact however that this will be the sixth grand slam final contested by the two, and their 37th meeting over all. This year has almost been a breakthrough year for the rest of the players in Men’s tennis, but the final showcase of the season will be contested by the worlds number one and two. The more things change…

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