- Chris Wilkinson
Top dog Djokovic loving life in the limelightChris Wilkinson August 10, 2011
The tennis season hits full speed again this week after a summer break. With many of the top players not having played since Wimbledon, the big guns are in Montreal this week for the Rogers Cup as they start to gear up for the US Open, which begins at the end of this month. They will have had plenty of time to practice and should be refreshed and raring to go.
As well as being physically rested, they will be mentally refreshed as well, and in many ways that is more important. With the French Open and Wimbledon so close together, followed swiftly by the Davis Cup, the players are in desperate need of a few weeks' rest and relaxation.
The lower-ranked players can't afford the luxury of a month-long break, and when you are playing in a lower-tour event in India somewhere it can be a bit of a grind. But for the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, they are playing in the big tournaments with a lot of ranking points up for grabs and they will be fired up and ready to go.
Djokovic is preparing to play his first tournament as world No. 1, but don't expect him to make any changes to his game - after all, he has been the player to beat for quite a while now. For him it will just be a case of keeping the momentum going. He has taken the game to a new level and it will be interesting to see how he deals with the pressure of being No. 1. He has only lost one match since November, but everyone is going to be gunning for him now.
He has had a very different summer to previous years. He has appeared on a couple of talk shows in the US and has been building his profile. He has crept under the radar a bit because of the huge amount of attention on Federer and Nadal and even now he is not as well known as those two.
As world No. 1 he is much more marketable now and he is taking full advantage - he is a lively character and is clearly relishing being in the spotlight. But I think he realises how important it is to build his profile, not only for him but for the sport. When you are on court you don't look at the bigger picture, but ultimately prize money is a direct result of the popularity of the sport. The players are ambassadors for the sport and it is up to them to sell tennis, not just now but for the future of the game.
I don't think Djokovic will struggle to deal with the added pressure of being top dog. In Serbia he is already a god and he is the kind of person who loves to be centre of attention and will love being in the limelight. He even has a stamp with his face on it in Serbia to commemorate Serbia's Davis Cup victory. Even if Andy Murray won Wimbledon I don't think he'd have a stamp!
Speaking of Murray, I am not surprised he lost to Kevin Anderson on Tuesday. He built up a good run over the clay and grass court seasons, but he doesn't seem to be able to just turn it back on immediately after a few weeks off. He struggled to regain his form in the spring after taking a break following the Australian Open, and he was unable to hit the ground running in Montreal.
Federer has just celebrated his 30th birthday, but don't expect him to slow down just yet. We have learnt to write him off at our peril. I do think he has lost his mojo a bit over the last year or so - players no longer fear him like they used to, but he is still a force to be reckoned with - I don't think his level has dropped; I think the likes of Nadal and Djokovic have stepped it up a gear.
It will give him hope that fellow old-timer Radek Stepanek won the Legg Mason Classic in Washington last week. Along with Juan Carlos Ferrero 's win in Stuttgart recently, it shows that there is still life beyond 30!
Rafael Nadal will be one player who will really have benefited from the break, but it won't just have been a nice bit of rest and relaxation for the Spaniard. I would imagine he will have spent a lot of time with uncle Toni trying to find a way to beat Djokovic. Having lost to him five times in a row, Nadal will probably have spent hours analysing video footage of the Wimbledon final and trying to find Djokovic's weakness in a bid to get his No. 1 ranking back.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1