SONY ERICSSON OPEN 2012
Sports Journalists Panel Discussion
by Peter Holehan|
In light of Novak Djokovic’s mastery of Miami in winning his third men’s singles title at the Sony Ericsson Open, we asked notable sports journalists what the victory means for the World’s No. 1 ranked player?
On the panel is Times of London writer Neil Harman who first covered Wimbledon 30 years ago, Miami Herald writer Michelle Kaufmann who has been tennis beat writer for 15 years and Associated Press writer Steve Wine, who has been covering tennis since 1988.
Harman: He’s won the Australian Open and was beaten in the semifinals of Indian Wells by Isner who served 20 aces. And he’s won the final here. He’s playing incredible tennis. He’s only 24. He’s fit, strong and determined. I can see him winning 10 Grand Slams. I think he can get to double figures in his career. Why not?
Kaufmann: The only other two guys who have three titles here are Pete [Sampras] and Andre [Agassi] so that’s pretty good company to join those two. I was here in ’07 when he won and I remember that day very clearly because he was really young and he had on this bright, yellow shirt. He had just beaten Nadal in the quarterfinals and you knew that was a statement match right here. Then he won the title and he was throwing his shirt and his wristbands and his hat and his racquets into the stands. He had such a great personality and I remember chatting with people and they were saying this is the real deal.
Wine: Given the timing of this tournament, this is viewed a barometer for the clay court season. I think that’s particularly appropriate in this case because the court was pretty slow. These were conditions somewhat similar to what they’ll be facing on clay. The fact that Djokovic rolled through the tournament without losing a set was very impressive. He looked very fit. The second set went over an hour and a half and he was still strong at the end.
Djokovic had held the World’s No. 1 ranking since July 4 of last year. How long will be able to retain the ranking with the impending clay court season approaching?
Harman: If he can maintain this form, I think he retains the No. 1 ranking this year. Currently, it’s hard to see anyone beyond him.
Kaufmann: As long as he wants it. Djokovic does tend to get a little bit tired, but he’s been working a lot and doesn’t complain as much. He plays through the tough moments. Nadal’s knees are questionable and Roger [Federer] is playing great, but he’s 30.
Wine: In some ways, his game is still on the upswing. He’s 90-8 since the beginning of last year. He’s not showing any signs of slowing down. If anything, he’s maybe gaining momentum. Rafa has his knee problems again surfacing and Federer did not have a great tournament here so it looks like Djokovic still has his head in front. He’s done very well against them head to head so I can definitely see him No. 1 at the end of the year.
Djokovic has already won the Australian Open this year. That makes him a five-time career Grand Slam champion. In your estimation, how many Grand Slam championships is Djokovic primed to win in 2012?
Harman: I can see him winning two of the three majors still to come. Rafa is obviously struggling a little. But Novak has set his heart on doing it. If he has a first week where he’s not taking too many long matches, yes, I think he can win the French Open too. He’s the joint favorite with Nadal. Nadal is a great player on clay, but Djokovic is in his head. I would not at all be surprised if Djokovic won the French Open.
Kaufmann: I think he’ll win multiple, but the big question is will he win the French. That’s one that he’d love to get because that’s a career Grand Slam that he doesn’t have. He has a great chance because we again don’t know about Nadal’s knees. Nadal is king of the clay, but if Djokovic is fired up I think he can do it.
Wine: I’ll go against the grain a little bit. I’ll give one to each of the big three the rest of the year with the asterisk being that maybe Murray sneaks in with one. I’ll give Djokovic one of the three.
Aside from Djokovic’s title run, which player’s performance was most impressive to you?
Harman: You’d have to say that Juan Monaco getting to the semifinal with the way that he fought and played. He’s been a little bit under the radar with [David] Nalbandian and [Juan Martin] Del Potro. But the feeling is that the Argentines have a very strong third player. I think he’s got that edge now.
Kaufmann: I think Juan Monaco had a really good tournament here. Roddick had a great match against Federer. I thought the bracket opened up for Andy and he’s American and he’s likes to play here. And, then Monaco just blew him out in the second set. And then he beat Mardy Fish also. He gave Djokovic some trouble in the second set. He’s ranked No. 21 so I think he showed that he can play with the top 10 players with no problem.
Wine: Juan Monaco. He had a very solid tournament. I think he’s an overachieving kind of player. He gets the most out of his game. He’s a relentless retriever who can run from corner to corner. He doesn’t have a ton of weapons, but he really rolled through the draw for the most part. This has been a very good week and a half for him. You got to knock him out.
Who deserved a better outcome based on how they played in this tournament and why?
Harman: The way that [Marcos] Baghdatis played against Djokovic in the first match—he pushed Novak very hard. I think that he’s one of those players that I’m really looking forward to seeing on the clay and on the grass. He’s proven in the past that he can get good wins. He has all the talent in the world.
Kaufmann: Roger [Federer] faced a tough third round draw against Andy [Roddick] in the United States. Normally, Andy would not be seeded that low. He’s just had all this trouble with injuries. And, when he’s on and on an American court with his serve, I think that’s a tough out for Roger. I think he would have gone further if it wasn’t for facing Andy there.
Wine: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He easily could have been in the final. He got beat in quarterfinals by Nadal. He had a bunch of break points that he did not convert. Very close match. Of course, Rafa winds up withdrawing before his next match. It could have been Tsonga against Murray and the way Tsonga is playing, I think that would have been a toss-up match as well. Just a tough way to go out.
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