The Winner and the WildCard

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are experiencing tremendous growth in their respective tennis careers, which was clearly demonstrated at yesterday's semifinal match at the Rome Masters. Djokovic is on a red-hot winning streak. Murray, who has struggled with his game in recent months, is now showing the world that he's not going to settle for the No. 4 spot.

The Winner

Without a doubt, the biggest story of the Rome Masters has been Novak Djokovic’s winning streak. The same story played out during the Madrid Open, the Sony Ericsson Open, and the BNP Paribas Open. (Picture Groundhog Day, over and over again.) Each time Djokovic adds another match to his incredible winning streak (he’s now approaching about 3,800), he inches closer to the ‘superman’ status that so few players have achieved in their careers.

The problem with Djokovic’s winning streak: It feels like he’s been playing in one continuous tournament for the past few months, with no end in sight. As the streak continues, the spotlight gets brighter, and the stakes get higher (none higher than today's final vs. Rafa). And when Djokovic is playing in a match, there is a collective gasp every time he is down a game. ‘Is this it? Is this the match that will end his chance at a record and turn him back into a mere mortal?’ As if to say the history-making moment is more about Djokovic’s streak being broken than about him breaking a record.

Sure, Djokovic could surpass John McEnroe’s 42-match winning streak, which would be simply amazing. (Guillermo Vilas holds the longest match winning streak record, at 46.)

Yes, he could win the French Open (if he can avoid injury and get past Nadal in a Grand Slam that he essentially owns), which would place Djokovic on a rather short list of tennis legends.

But what if he doesn’t win? Does he go back to being a mere mortal? Djokovic is unbeatable...invincible…and unstoppable…for the moment. He’s the player who can summon up his best, both physically and mentally in every match, even when he’s near exhaustion. We know the streak can’t last forever. Nor should it. But it’s nice to watch ‘superman’ in action, especially when he takes us along for the ride.

The WildCard
In a card game, the “wild card” can function as a substitute for any other card in the deck. (Of course, tennis has it's own meaning for wild cards, which I'll save for another post.) But if tennis were played like a card game, you might find a picture of Andy Murray on the wild card. The big question: Can Murray be a substitute for the King (Rafa) or the Joker (Djokovic)? Murray played the match of his career on Saturday in the Rome semifinal, giving Djokovic a run for his money. Murray came very close to ending Djokovic’s now 38-match winning streak in a nail-biting, third-set tie-breaker that lasted over 3 hours, but it wasn’t in the cards for Murray. 


Even though Andy Murray is currently designated as the No. 4 card in the game, we may be seeing the tennis deck shuffled in the near future, if Darren Cahill and the Adidas Player Development Program have anything to say about it. Saturday’s match in Rome proves that Murray has enough power, speed, and weapons to become a wildcard that can potentially outrank and out play Nadal or Djokovic on any given day.


Update: Novak Djokovic went on to defeat Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Rome Masters, extending his winning streak to 39 (since 2010).

1 comment:

Marine said...

I think it's refreshing to see the slight change of the guard in the mens tennis. In a few years Roger will retire from tennis and if there was no one to fill that space than the ATP tour would be in trouble. A little bit like WTA is right now, although I don't think that all the criticism is justified.