It’s safe to say that Novak Djokovic is back – and he means business.
After missing the latter half last season due to an elbow injury, including Rogers Cup in Montreal, the former World No. 1 took a nosedive down the rankings. Following a successful surgery earlier this year, however, he appears to be back on track and playing the vintage baseline tennis that has seen him emerge as one of the greatest players of his generation.
There are a lot of great players playing in Toronto this summer, but here’s why Djokovic will go home with the trophy:
There’s no denying it: since 2011, no one has been more impressive on hard courts – fast, slow, indoors or outdoors – than the Serbian. The hard-court Grand Slams have been split by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as he dealt with his elbow issues, but up until 2017, it was Djokovic who was next to unplayable on the surface, compiling a 310-38 (89%) hard-court record since his ATP World Tour dominance began seven years ago.
The hard courts at Rogers Cup are traditionally quicker than those ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events earlier in the season, such as Indian Wells and Miami, but the current World No. 10’s smothering baseline prowess can, at times, make opponents feel powerless. On the front foot, he can dominate a rally; on the back foot, he’s one of the best at turning defense into offense.
Add that to being arguably the greatest returner in the history of the sport, and you’ve got a 2018 Rogers Cup champion on your hands.
Djokovic just KNOWS how to win this tournament. The 2007 event in Montreal was the Serbian’s second Masters 1000 title and first victory against Federer after losing his previous four, and this run would catalyze his ascent to the top of the game. Despite playing third fiddle to Federer and Nadal for several years prior, he finally reached the World No. 1 ranking at Wimbledon in 2011, claiming three more Rogers Cup titles after that (2011, 2012, 2016).
Like riding a bike, you never forget how to win – and when a player like Djokovic has won so much in both Montreal and Toronto (two in each city), it won’t be difficult for him to channel the tennis he needs to claim his fifth in Toronto this August.
3. Back to his best
It’s no secret that Djokovic suffered a dip in form after completing the Career Grand Slam by winning his fourth major trophy in a row at Roland Garros in 2016. Compounded by a nagging injury – likely the result of all the winning he was doing – it was a struggle for the man from Belgrade. Over the course of the clay court season this year, we saw flashes of the brilliance that brought him to the top of the game, and then, at Wimbledon earlier this month, it all came full circle.
"Novak Djokovic is in the #Wimbledon final again"
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2018
Djokovic dominated the field, navigating tricky opponents in the earlier rounds and overcoming a high-stakes, high-quality semifinal epic with Nadal – a match that he might reflect back on as a turning point in his season. After winning the match of the tournament against his Spanish rival, he blew past Kevin Anderson in the final, claiming his fourth Wimbledon crown and 13th Grand Slam overall.
The win against Nadal was huge for his confidence, and now that he’s got the taste of victory back in his mouth, it’s certain he’ll want more of it. The rest of the field should watch out.
Djokovic has an extremely passionate fan base. In Canada, Serbians have shown that they come out in swarms to support the most successful athlete in the history of their country and when they come to the tournaments in Toronto and Montreal, their enthusiasm is literally painted on their face in blue, white and red, with flags and chants galore.
In other sports – a home-court advantage can be the difference between winning and losing, and with all the support that the four-time Rogers Cup champion is sure to have from his fans, it might just be the factor that gets him over the finish line and hoisting that trophy at the tournament’s finale.
(Feature photo: TPN/Getty Images)