And then there was one…
It’s become a daily routine this week; tennis fans waking up in this side of the world to the news that one of the big guns in Montreal has suffered an upset in the Rogers Cup. All but one actually.
Once again, Novak Djokovic sets himself apart from the rest of the pack forcing us to wonder how much longer will we be able to refer to the Serb along with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray as the Big Four?
Are the cracks that separate those players in terms of form and consistency starting to grow?
This time around, Djokovic did not have to do anything spectacular to stand out; all he did was win his two opening rounds in the Canadian city, except that turned out to be an uneasy task for his fellow top-four stars.
With Murray going through a miserable match against Kevin Anderson where he was almost invisible on court, Nadal inexplicably squandering a 6-1, 3-1 lead against Ivan Dodig before failing to close out the match again in the decider at 5-3, and finally Federer showing some fight against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before getting romped in the final set 6-1, it’s getting harder to see anyone threatening Djokovic at the US Open, which is less than three weeks away.
Simply because while those former champions were flailing in Montreal, Djokovic was booking himself a quarter-final spot after two rounds, where he pulled himself out of a messy situation in the first set against Nikolay Davydenko before he tamed an in-form Marin Cilic in the following round.
Unlike the rest, Djokovic is at the top of the game and he is successfully playing the part.
It may be premature to discard Nadal, Federer and Murray from the US Open contention conversation but the trio have less than three weeks to get back in the ring and make a statement.
If mere rustiness is to blame for the triple-upset then things should improve come Cincinnati next week as they get more match play on hardcourts, but I think it’s hard to give one explanation for all three defeats, given that each player lost to three very different opponents and under different circumstances.
There may be reasons for us to believe that this was just a coincidence and that Murray was still recovering from his Wimbledon letdown, Nadal lacked practice due to the minor foot problem that delayed his preparations, and Federer was unlucky to face someone like Tsonga early in the tournament, especially that the Frenchman is enjoying an exceptionally strong run this summer.
So while explanations may vary on why – for the first time since 2005 – only one of the “Awesome Foursome” has made the quarters of the Rogers Cup, the undisputed truth is that Djokovic is forging a bigger gap between himself and everyone else.