On the hardcourts of Rio, Djokovic is the clear favourite

  • Sharmistha Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 02, 2016 18:28 IST
In current form, Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite to clinch gold at the Rio Olympics. (AFP)

Unbeatable? Perfectionist? Greatest of all time? Every time Novak Djokovic steps on to the court, fans and critics debate how to refer to the world No 1 from Serbia. With 12 Majors – which include a career Grand Slam — the world No 1 ranking firmly in his grasp and an overall 737-150 win-loss record, Djokovic added another stat to his already overflowing resume on Sunday in Toronto. The 29-year-old tossed aside Japan’s Kei Nishikori’s challenge to win a 30th Masters 1000 tournament, a record he holds alone.

Let’s put this into perspective. Roger Federer has 17 Grand Slams and 24 Masters trophies, Rafael Nadal stands second with 14 Majors and 28 Masters. Andy Murray, though part of the Big Four, has a long way to go with only 3 Slams and 12 Masters. Going by Djokovic’s form, critics argue it won’t be long before the Serb catches up to the Spaniard and then challenge the Swiss Maestro’s Major record.

There’s little doubt that Djokovic is the man to beat when the Rio Games begin this week. Andy Murray (Djokovic leads 24-10 in head-to-head) may be the defending champion and the recent Wimbledon winner, Nadal (26-23) might be hoping to add a second Olympic singles gold to the one he won in Beijing but none of them come close to Djokovic’s current form. Nadal is recovering from a wrist injury that forced him to pull out of the French Open; Murray has repeatedly lost to the Serb this year, thrice to put it statistically. The remaining challengers from the top 10 are Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka (19-4) and Nishikori (10-2). Federer is recovering from a knee injury and cut his season short while Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic have withdrawn from the Olympics.

Djokovic is of the breed who gives equal importance to the Olympics, equaling it to a Major. “I don’t need to explain that every athlete dreams of being part of the Olympic Games. I’m competing in the singles and doubles. Hopefully I’ll get at least one medal,” he said on Sunday. He’s desperate, hungry to add a gold medal to his list of achievements after winning a bronze eight years ago. In London, he was shocked in the quarterfinals.

(HT Graphics)

Barring the third round blip at Wimbledon and a second round loss at Monte Carlo, Djokovic’s level of play has been far superior. Seven titles and a 51-4 win/loss record so far is the season’s tally. Not only did he win his sixth Australian Open (matching Roy Emerson), he overcame the Roland Garros barrier which made him the eighth man to own a career Slam and joined the company of Rod Laver and Don Budge to hold all four Majors at the same time, though in a non-calendar year.

Djokovic is moving up in pace so fast that the gap among the Big Four is widening. Of course anything can happen at the Olympics, fairytales are scripted and shocking defeats are recorded but with the Serb’s recent form heating up tennis records, other contenders will have to hope Djokovic has an off day on court at Rio. After all, let’s not forget the Serb has amassed 50 titles of his total 66, on hardcourts - the playing surface at Rio.

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