NOVAK FACES STAN-MEDVEDEV-ROGER-RAFA in NEXT FOUR MATCHES
No one has ever conquered a Grand Slam by overcoming a field of opponents whose combined Grand Slam tally is more than 26. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger (then 16 Slams winner) in the semis and Rafa (then at 10) in the US Open final in 2011.
Now take a look at Novak Djokovic’s likely next four opponents in the business stages at the Big Apple– Stan, Medvedev, Roger and Rafa .The combined Slams tally of this series of hurdles is a mindboggling 41. To win his 17th, Novak will have to overcome these four tough opponents in successive matches. It is not just about the number of Slams, but also the quality of the players that makes this difficult. Since the French Open 2005, only Big 3, Stan, Andy, Cilic and Del Potro have won Grand Slams. With Andy Murray and DelPo not taking the field in this US Open, it is only Cilic who is not a direct hurdle in Nole’s path, unless he takes out Rafa.
Stanislaw Wawrinka overcame a combined tally of 25 at the French Open 2015- beating Novak in the final(then a winner of 8 Slams) and Roger(17) in the semi-final . Del Potro also defeated both Federer and Rafa on his way to his US Open 2009 glory, but the duo then had a combined tally of just 21 (15+6).
Nole suffered with a stiff elbow at Cincinnati, before he bowed out to Daniil Medvedev in the semis. Since his career threatening elbow injury and the eventual surgery in 2017-18, this was the first flare-up of the old impediment. He felt excruciating pain in his left shoulder before and during his second round match versus Londero ,making it difficult to serve and hit backhands properly. Djokovic is definitely not fully fit, and is temperamentally on edge as well. He picked arguments with some unruly spectators, and snapped back at poking reporters on Friday. The Champ right now gives the impression of being testy as well as vulnerable, but then this is Novak, the master of deception, we are talking about .
Wawrinka beat him the last time they played, which was at the Flushing Meadows in the 2016 final. Nole might be ahead by 20-5 in head-to-head versus Stan , but the latter also prevailed in their earlier Slam clash which happened to be the final of the French Open in 2015. Infact, Stan beat Novak in the semis ,enroute his first Grand Slam win at Melbourne in 2014. He might be ranked number 23, but Wawrinka is a very dangerous opponent for Djokovic in Grand Slams, even as Novak is lucky mascot for the former.
Next who awaits Novak is Daniil Medvedev (who if fit, must easily beat Koepfler) in the round of eight. Novak has lost to the Russian in their last two encounters- at Cincinnati and Monte Carlo ,both in 2019,and could prevail at Melbourne only in four sets. Medvedev is playing the best tennis of his life, is at his career best ranking of number 5, reached three finals in August (Washington ,Montreal and Cincinnati) and won his first Masters at Cincinnati . He is a hell of a tough customer, a wall in defence and a bomber on serve, and would be a very tricky opponent for the world number 1.
If Novak somehow manages to dig deep and enter the semis, Roger Federer shall be his likely opponent. The world has still not come to terms with the epic Wimbledon final. It might be extremely difficult for a tired Novak to edge past Federer again. But then there is Ben Stokes to provide inspiration in this ‘season of the bizarre and impossible’ in how he has managed to better the heroics of that fateful day within 50 days of July14. (World Cup Cricket and Wimbledon finals)
Then comes the small matter of facing Rafael Nadal who received a drubbing at the hands of Novak in the Australian Open final of 2019, but later beat him at Rome. An easy draw has ensured that Rafa shall hardly be tested or taxed properly before the final. A potential semifinal versus Nick Kyrgios beckons, after a relatively easy quarter-final against Sascha Zverev and a round of 16 match-up against Cilic. But neither of the three is expected to trouble the Mallorcan. A fit and fresh Rafa versus an injured and exhausted Novak can only have one possible outcome.
Novak has won 37 of the last 38 matches in Grand Slams. He won the last US Open, the last Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon) and four of the last five Slams. Novak has beaten Roger in their last five head-to-head matches in Grand Slams, and Rafa in the last three . Law of average dictates that Novak may be overdue for a failure at the highest stage. And yet , if he manages to survive against this stellar line-up , it might be remembered as one of his greatest triumphs.
This analysis also points at how Stan has a chance to beat Nole, Roger and Rafa in the same tournament and thereby end up prevailing over the combined winners of 54 Slams. Daniil Medvedev also has the chance to beat the Big 3 in US Open 2019. On that note, when odds are so insurmountable as to be overcome, it would be safe to suggest that a Fedal final and Rafa win now seems most likely scenario.