'Belief' key to Djokovic success
john mcenroe described it as the greatest season in tennis history.
There are still two Masters Series tournaments, the end-of-season Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London and the concluding stages of the Davis Cup to be played, but it would be hard to disagree with that verdict.
The Grand Slam season could not have had a better finale as Novak Djokovic, the player of the year by a country mile, beat Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1 in a final of stunning quality that lasted four hours and 10 minutes.
There have been finals of more drama, finals with more twists and turns, but surely no two players have ever struck the ball with more consistent power or showed such stunning athleticism as Djokovic and Nadal did here on Monday night.
Many of the rallies -- several of them 20 strokes or more -- had the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium gasping in near disbelief as both men retrieved balls from seemingly impossible positions and turned heroic defence into thrilling attack.
At the end of it, for the 10th time in tournaments this year, the crowd was left to acclaim Djokovic as a quite extraordinary champion.
It has been a truly astonishing year for the 24-year-old Serb. He has won 64 of the 66 matches he has played -- his only defeats have been against Roger Federer in the French Open semi-finals and against Andy Murray in the final of the Cincinnati Masters, when he retired with a sore shoulder -- and won three Grand Slam titles. He has now beaten Nadal, his predecessor as world No 1, in six finals in succession this year.
While Don Budge (in 1938) and Rod Laver (in 1962 and 1969) won all four Grand Slam titles in a single season, Djokovic has achieved his success in an era which until this year had been dominated by two of the greatest players of all time in Nadal and Federer.
The Serb traces the start of his extraordinary run back to last year's US Open, when he saved two match points against Federer in the semi-finals before losing to Nadal. "At this level you need those tough matches against the top guys in order to get confidence, to get self-belief on the court that you can really win majors and win the big matches," Djokovic said.
"I guess it just clicked in my head. I think that throughout the last couple of years I haven't changed my game in any major way. Most of the strokes are the same that they were in the last two or three years.
"It's just that I'm now hitting the shots that I maybe wasn't hitting in the last two or three years.
"I'm going for it, I'm more aggressive, and I have just a different approach to the semi-finals and finals of major events, especially when I'm playing two great champions, Rafa and Roger.
"In the last couple of years, that wasn't the case. I was always trying to wait for their mistakes and not really having the positive attitude and believing that I can win. This has changed and the US Open 2010 was definitely one of the turning points in my career."
In the past there were doubts about Djokovic's fitness and stamina, but changing to a gluten-free diet has been a crucial factor in his improved physical condition. Asked what he had eaten going into the final and what he would eat afterwards, Djokovic replied: "I'll give you a simple answer. Last night I didn't have any gluten and tonight I will have a bunch of gluten -- and alcohol."
Djokovic said that achieving the career Grand Slam by securing a French Open title was his next big goal. "I still want to win many more major events. Love for the sport keeps me going and as long as that feeling of winning on the court stays with me, I will keep fighting for more trophies. It would be unbelievable to be able to complete the Grand Slam."