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Another episode from Big 3 Domination

7th title at Wimbledon

It was nine consecutive times that he exited a Slam without lifting the trophy and was about to become ten. With Julien Benneteau first ahead by two sets and, afterwards, several times only two points away from victory, Roger Federer had seriously risked to leave Wimbledon at the threshold of the 16th final in 2012 that had given him satisfactions on fast courts (Rotterdam, Dubai, Indian Wells) and insidious ones (the blue clay of Madrid) but that had strangely failed him in "his" Halle. But the old (!) lion did not want to abdicate and gave himself another chance, demolishing the demoralized Frenchman in the fifth set. With Malisse, it went better, with Youzhny it was almost a walk in the park but now in the semifinals there was Novak Djokovic, the best of all, the defending champion. Instead, keeping his back warm with the help of a health shirt, the Swiss had found the sacred fire and got rid of the Serb in four sets, just as he would have done in the final with the host Andy Murray. These two victories are not only worth (so to speak) the seventh Wimbledon and the 17th Major, but also the return to the top of the ATP pyramid on July 9th.

Roger Federer image

Roger Federer image

Fighting for other great titles

So, between the two quarrels, the third enjoyed and the first exit as king was again on the courts of Church Road, this time, however, colored to celebrate the London Olympics. Federer reached the final but there he paid the price for the effort sustained to get to grips with Del Potro (19-17 in the third set) and offered virtually no resistance to Murray, who won the gold and took his revenge. The number one, however, is on form and shows it in Cincinnati, winning the ATP 1000 without losing a single set and beating Djokovic again in the final. The two shared the odds at the US Open and instead Federer stopped in the quarters, beaten by Berdych who closed his career with an unflattering record against the number 1 (4 wins and 30 losses) but who, on a good day, had the weapons to put anyone in trouble. The Czech will never go beyond the fourth position in the ranking but will remain - between 2010 and 2016 - more than six years in the Top-10, collecting little in absolute terms of victories (just 13 titles, of which only one Masters 1000) but placing with extreme continuity and playing at least the semifinals in each of the four slams.

The gap in the rankings between Federer and Djokovic is rather small and the indoor season becomes the arbiter of the sprint for the title at the end of the year. The Swiss loses in the semifinals in Shanghai to Murray and in the final in Basel to Juan Martin Del Potro (who, on the other hand, when he faces the leader of the ranking, knows how to make himself respected, being at his fifth victory in eleven matches) while Djokovic wins Beijing and Shanghai one after the other and, despite slipping at his debut in Bercy against Querrey, already knows that at the ATP Finals in London he will be number one again with a margin of points that will guarantee him to be number one also at the end of 2012. However, in order to legitimize his throne, Djokovic racked up five victories, the last of which was the final against Federer, which ended with a score of 7-6/7-5, not without regrets on the part of Roger, ahead by a break in both sets and still the author of a good performance.

Successful start of Djokovic in 2013

Novak Djokovic image

Novak Djokovic image

The beginning of the new season (2013) confirms Djokovic's superiority and he confirms himself as champion at the Australian Open and wins in Dubai but in the two 1000 between California and Florida he runs into unexpected defeats, especially the one with the 35 years old Tommy Haas in Miami. The only time in his career that the German had beaten a number one was in 1999, when he defeated Agassi at the Grand Slam Cup. Notwithstanding these false steps, the gap in the ranking with respect to the pursuers widens (almost 4000 points after Miami) as Federer has entered his worst year and is collecting only defeats, so much so that at the moment he has slipped to third place surpassed - albeit by just 80 points - by Andy Murray.

As we will see later, the Scotsman and the Swiss are not the real danger for Djokovic who, instead, obtains a significant victory in Monte Carlo (the first in his career) beating in the final the revived Nadal. The Spaniard is back in the circuit after eight months of absence but he preferred to skip Melbourne and run in the South American tournaments on clay; since his return, Rafa has only played finals losing in Vina del Mar (with Zeballos) and winning in Sao Paulo, Acapulco and also on the cement of Indian Wells. Considering that the Spaniard was coming from 18 consecutive victories, the defeat in one of his reigns is surprising, even if it was against the No. 1 of the world, but Nadal is not discouraged and resumes to grind titles (Barcelona, Madrid, Rome) until he finds his rival in the semifinals at Roland Garros. In Paris, Djokovic arrived there with two more defeats on his back; the first in Madrid at the hands of the young Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, according to Tennis Time, whose strokes closely resemble Federer, and the second in Rome against Berdych.

At the semi-final of Roland Garros with Djokovic, Nadal arrives with an incredible record of 57 wins and 1 loss but this time he is really close to defeat. After wasting the opportunity to close in four sets (twice leading by a break, twice recovered and overcome in the tie-break of the fourth partial), in the fifth Djokovic keeps a break of advantage until the eighth game and here he gets his serve torn away after a trivial touch of the net after a winning smash. In the continuation of the challenge, the Spaniard comes back to the surface and closes 9-7, completing the work in the final against his compatriot Ferrer.

RG Classics - Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic - 2013 | Roland-Garros

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Struggle for the first line of the rating

The duel is postponed to Wimbledon but on the grass the Spaniard has still too many uncertainties and loses at the debut against Darcis while Djokovic improves the semifinal of the previous year but is forced to succumb with Murray, finally champion also in the major of his Great Britain, after having been so in the Olympic tournament.

The day after Wimbledon, Djokovic still has 3000 points of advantage on Murray and almost 6000 on Nadal, who is fourth behind Ferrer and in front of a Federer in free fall. However, from here on, the Iberian will have no more points to defend while the Serbian will have to deal with several expiring bills. It is true that Nadal will no longer be able to exploit the advantage of the clay and will have to look for points on the hard courts, but obviously the rest has done him good and his American summer is perfect with the prestigious triple Montreal-Cincinnati-US Open, enhanced by two victories over Djokovic himself, who in Ohio is also surprised by the good giant John Isner. Obviously, the scenario in the ranking has completely changed but the title in Flushing Meadows does not allow Nadal to return to the top of the ranking, even if for a whisker: 10860 points against Djokovic's 10980.

It is a paradox that the Spaniard continues to be second after these repeated exploits and instead succeeds in overtaking him in Beijing, where the number 1 Djokovic once again beats him rather decisively in the final (6-3/6-4) but for the game of scraps he is relegated to second place. Nadal's sensational run-up, therefore, had its deserved reward and the figures speak for themselves: 13 finals (10 of which were won) in 14 tournaments played! Something never seen before, or almost. The new leader, however, pays the price for the effort in the last part of the season, where the playing conditions make him more vulnerable. In the two remaining 1000's Nadal lost in the semifinals to Del Potro (Shanghai) and Ferrer (Bercy) but at the ATP Finals he was determined to take the only major tournament missing from his collection. Having reached the final with authority, beating Federer in the semifinals, he pays for Djokovic's greater aptitude for the surface, who rules him again 6-3/6-4 and closes 2013 in style with a poker of prestigious successes (Beijing, Shanghai, Bercy and London) keeping himself within a thousand points of the first player in the ranking. After 2008 and 2010, Nadal closes the third season in his career as world number one.

Rafael Nadal image

Rafael Nadal image

Who will be the next number one?

Obviously, again because of the discards, 2014 presents almost opposite perspectives for the two tennis players who are dominating the ranking. Nadal will soon be called upon to defend a lot of points while Djokovic will be able to count on partial recovery in some tournaments in which he exited the scene too early the previous year. The Spaniard, however, has all the intentions to put hay in the pot for the worst moments and to do so he exploits the month of January, during which the previous year he was still in the pits. So the number one won in Doha and reached the final at the Australian Open, where he lost to surprise - but not too much - to the other Swiss, Stan Wawrinka. Grown up in the shadow of his more illustrious compatriot but in possession of a backhand that is an anthology of tennis, Stan the Man arrived late to full psychological maturity and his extraordinary victory in the quarters against Djokovic (9-7 in the fifth) made him understand that he could be competitive at the highest levels. And what, at first, seems to be an unrepeatable exploit, as we will see later, will have not a single replica.

The loot gained in January allows Nadal to desert Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco, despite having points to defend, and concentrate on the 500 in Rio de Janeiro, which in fact he regularly wins. But from Indian Wells onwards the troubles begin. In California, the Spaniard loses in the third round to the eclectic Dolgopolov, a Ukrainian whose considerable talent does not find adequate comfort in his body, often subject to injury. Intent on immediately recovering ground, the number one also took the court in Miami (where he had not gone the previous year) and conquered an important final, in which, however, he suffered a double 6-3 defeat by Djokovic, who had also triumphed in Indian Wells. Despite everything, after the coupled 1000 U.S. Nadal still has almost two thousand points of advantage over the Serbian but the erosion continues on earth, where the Iberian runs into a couple of missteps. Both in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona two compatriots stopped him in the quarterfinals; the first was Ferrer, who returned to beat him on red clay after ten years, while the second was Nicolas Almagro, at his first and only victory over the left-hander from Manacor in sixteen head-to-head matches.

After returning to success in Madrid, after a final in which he was dominated for a set and a half by Nishikori before the Japanese player suffered a muscular injury that forced him to retire in the third set, Nadal found Djokovic again in the finals of Rome and Paris; in Italy he lost after winning the first set while at Roland Garros he overturned the outcome and bit the ninth trophy in ten years recovering from 0-1 and winning in the fourth. The next day, June 9, the Spaniard is still the leader but with only 170 points, a dangerously small margin that the Spaniard tries to widen by entering the 500 in Halle, where, however, he loses sharply in his debut to the German from Jamaica, Dustin Brown. Spectacular and tightrope walker, on grass Brown represents the most undesirable thing for Nadal and he will have the opportunity to reaffirm the concept the following year, at Wimbledon no less.

As for 2014, right at the end of the London Championships, he was overtaken in the world ranking. While the number one loses again, one year later, to a colleague classified over the hundredth position in the ATP ranking (Darcis was 135, Kyrgios is 144), Djokovic wins the tournament over the revived Federer in a beautiful final that ends in the fifth set. Thus, on July 7, the Serb takes back the scepter.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

To end this chapter, however, it is necessary to say a few words about Nick Kyrgios, the nineteen year old from Canberra who arrived at Wimbledon after winning the challenger in Nottingham starting from the qualifiers and author of a sensational performance in the second round against Gasquet, beaten 10-8 in the fifth after coming back from 0-2. Against Nadal, the young Aussie shows all his coolness in the important moments and closes the two tie-breaks in his favor that, together with the 6-3 in the fourth set, will give him the victory; 37 aces and almost 90% of points won with the first are the most striking numbers of an electrifying challenge that, as mentioned, will cost the Spaniard the baton.

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