Venkataraman: Djokovic’s ascension

Jan. 29, 2016, 1:53 a.m.

Yesterday night, I dozed off during the Warriors game, which is really quite embarrassing if you think about it — I was lulled to sleep by the ho-hum excellence of a team that can play poorly and still blow the doors off a savvy Mavericks squad by 20+ points. In my defense, I was tired and Klay Thompson played totally within the flow of the game and somehow managed to rack up a quiet 45 points.

However, this proved fortuitous, because my quick nap allowed me to be awake for Djokovic-Federer, round 45 (this time, for all the marbles!). Both players had exactly 22 wins and 22 losses against each other, and with Federer in peak form and Djokovic looking quite mortal while hitting a staggering 100 unforced errors against Gilles Simon, experts predicted a nice exciting showing.

They could not have been more wrong, as Djokovic absolutely blitzed a shell-shocked Federer off the court, claiming two sets in under an hour and eventually triumphing in a not-as-close-as-the-score-seems four set match, 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, booking a spot in the final against the winner of the second semifinal.

Watching the match live, I was astonished with just how thoroughly Djokovic dominated the match. At one point midway through the second set, Federer had won only 20% of his points off his second serve and had been broken four times in this match itself – he had only been broken five times across all his previous matches at the Australian Open. Djokovic weaponized his serve, absolutely bedeviling Federer with his pace and variety. And against Federer’s vaunted service game, Djokovic was machinelike in his efficiency, making every return count and throwing Federer’s timing and precision totally off.

To watch Djokovic move and defend his half of the court and steadily take control of rallies against one of the all-time greats showed just how dominant a player he is. He may lack the flair and artistry of Federer or the manic vitality of Nadal, but Djokovic possesses a bluntness of stroke and direct approach that is no less beautiful in its effectiveness. His game is truly without weakness – he serves well, he returns exceptionally, his movement is hyperefficient, he plays loose on the biggest points and his booming forehand and whip-like two-handed backhand rarely let him down.

Roger Federer’s reign of terror atop the tennis world for much of the 2000s was abruptly shattered by the ascension of Rafael Nadal, who was (and remains) an absolute master on clay, who slowly but surely upped his game on grass and hardcourts to claim his throne. Djokovic spent many years on the outside of that duopoly before breaking through himself, ascending the throne and making tennis a triumvirate. Andy Murray and others have all been in the running for the coveted fourth spot at this dinner table, but for the longest time you could randomly sample from Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and still have a reasonably good chance of picking the winner.

Nowadays, you only need to sample from a pool of one, as Djokovic has raised his game to such a level as to render every opponent impotent. Last season, Djokovic won 82 of 88 matches played, reached the finals of all four majors (winning three), earned a record-breaking amount of prize money, and essentially owned each of his key rivals, annihilating Federer, Nadal and Murray at nearly every occasion. His only major loss came to Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros, in a match wherein Wawrinka played absolutely out of his skin (he would call it the match of his life). This year, he has picked up where he left off, being the clear favorite to win in The Land Down Under and undoubtedly in contention at all other tournaments he enters. We are witnessing a truly dominant stretch of tennis play, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Every tennis player has weaknesses – Federer has struggled against his slowly declining physical attributes for a few years, while Nadal has ghosts of Djokovic echoing in his head that he is unable to exorcise. In contrast, the book on how to beat Djokovic is fairly sparse – hope he beats himself, like he almost did against Simon. Short of that, hoping that you play the match of your life while Djokovic plays the worst match of his life seems to be the only recourse for the huddled masses. Last year, Djokovic came oh-so-close to the calendar slam – this year, he might just pull it off.


While Djokovic is undoubtedly at the peak of his sport, the same cannot be said about Vignesh Venkataraman’s beloved Pats. To console him about the AFC Championship game, shoot him an email at viggy ‘at’

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.

Login or create an account