By Chris Oddo, Monday, October 14, 2013
In demonstrating a perpetual lust for battle and the ability to overcome great setbacks with resiliency, Novak Djokovic is hero No. 1 this week.
Photo Source: AP
After a wild week in Shanghai, Osaka and Linz, we take a look back at the studs and duds from the tennis week that was...
Hero: Novak Djokovic
What a long,strange trip it has been in 2013 for Novak Djokovic. Back in April, after the Serb ousted Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, it really looked like Djokovic might have a shot to be tennis' first calendar-year Grand Slam winner since Rod Laver in 1969. Then Nadal's remarkable season took shape, leaving Djokovic to play a mere second fiddle to the indomitable Spaniard, who conquered everybody that was somebody in every venue that mattered right through the hard court season.
You'd think that Djokovic would be a picture of dejection after all that. Dropping the No. 1 ranking, losing heartbreaking matches in Grand Slams three times, and not being able to find that extra special gear that we all knew he had but just wasn’t able to summon, be it because Nadal wouldn't let him, or fate wouldn't allow it.
But there are no hanging heads in the Djokovic camp. Only puffed-up chests, perfectly placed serves and clutch volleys, as the World No. 2 has run roughshod over the field in Asia, notching two prestigious titles that came bundled with massive, confidence inspiring victories over Rafael Nadal in the Beijing final and Juan Martin del Potro in the Shanghai Masters final.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Djokovic has sent a message to the rest of the tour. He has taken Nadal's sublime season as a challenge, and we should all be thankful for that. Because while the rest of the tour tends to genuflect at the mere mention of Nadal's name, Novak Djokovic bristles with a deep yearning to prove himself worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Nadal. In the last two weeks, he's done that and more, and as the suns sets on the 2013 season, it's clear that the era of Djokovic's greatness is far from being over. Like a true champion, and yes, like Nadal, Djokovic has learned to stay hungry and humble, to bide his time and to keep staying faithful to the mission at hand.
What Does the Future Hold for Novak Djokovic?
He is demonstrating maturity, resilience and fortitude as the season winds down. There's not much more tennis fans could ask for than what Djokovic is giving right now.
Zero: Tunisia's Tennis Federation
For ordering Malek Jaziri to withdraw from a match against Israel's Amir Weintraub at the Tashkent challenger, the Tunisian Tennis Federation has committed the no-no of mixing politics and sport. Tennis is about goodwill, healthy competition, and, perhaps more than any other sport, about crossing borders and operating under one unified tent. In sabotaging the chances of their own player, the TTF has sabotaged the very good intentions of what we're all so in love with tennis for. It's terrible, and here's to hoping that the ITF finds a way to properly police this type of incident, so that it doesn't happen again.
Hero: The Pliskova Twins
Kristyna and Karolina Pliskova became the first female twins to ever win a WTA doubles title and only the ninth pair of sisters ever to do so. The 21-year-olds won the Linz title, taking out top seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska in the final.
Hero: The State of Connecticut
For offering to buy the WTA New Haven event, which was recently put up for sale by the USTA. The USTA had reportedly reached an agreement to sell the tournament's license and move it to Winston-Salem, but when the ATP blocked the idea of making Winston-Salem a joint event, Connecticut came to the rescue for the low, low price of $618,000. “In this case, we're making a relatively modest investment, given the size of the economic development return that this brings to the community,” said Ben Barnes, the state's budget director.
Zero: Sloane Stephens
Stephens, who is usually quite good at defeating lower-ranked opponents, missed a golden chance to reach the Linz semis (and perhaps her first career final later in the week) when she fell to Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele in the quarterfinals. Stephens is the only player in the WTA's top 20 that has yet to reach her first career final. We think it's high time that she did...
Hero: Sam Stosur
It has been an up and down season for Stosur, but she played a fantastic match in the Osaka final to slip by Eugenie Bouchard in three sets and win her second title of the season. It's the first time that the 29-year-old has won two titles in a single season, and she became the first person to win two Osaka titles, having won it previously in 2009.
Stosur Battles Back to Win in Osaka
Zero: Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian looked disinterested in Shanghai in losing to Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the first round. Dimitrov has now lost four matches in a row, a spell that began with the round of 16 loss to Nadal in Cincinnati.
Hero: Madison Keys and Eugenie Bouchard
Keys, 18, reached her first WTA semifinal in Osaka, while Bouchard, 19, reached her first career final at the same event. Both were knocked off by Sam Stosur, but more important, both have promising futures in store for them.
Hero: Angelique Kerber
Kerber caused quite a stir, waltzing into Linz and snatching up somebody else's wild card to take a spot in the draw with the goal in mind of furthering her WTA Championship hopes. Well, don't blame her for taking what the Linz powers that be were willing to give her. Instead, credit her for making good on the opportunity by winning her third career final. Kerber qualified for the WTA Championships when she won her quarterfinal match, then took it two rounds further, defeating Ana Ivanovic in a wild, entertaining two-setter that felt like a three-setter in the final.
Kerber Edges Ivanovic for Linz Title
Hero: Nicolas Mahut:
Mahut won ANOTHER title, this one the Open de Rennes Challenger title in France. He rises to No. 61 in the world for his efforts.
Hero: Juan Martin del Potro
Another Masters 1000 final for the big man, and a valiant effort in the final, where he fell short to Novak Djokovic in a third-set tiebreaker. Despite the final loss, and because of shots like these (and how cool his gentle giant on-court demeanor is), and because he qualified for London with his effort in Shanghai, Del Potro earns hero status this week.