Britain's Andy Murray on the first afternoon of the tournament. Then he raised
his level of play with each succeeding match. Demonstrating a vast array of
skills, he would belt a 130-mph serve, follow it up with a forceful forehand
from the baseline, then head toward the net and finish the point with a
delicate drop volley. With the exception of Federer, no player layers such
power with such touch.
By the start of
the second week, this sacre bleu shotmaking—and a smile spanning from one
studded ear to the other—had made Tsonga the toast of the tournament. Crowds
lavished him with standing ovations. On his off days, fans ringed his practice
court. As one supporter's handwritten sign read, it's a TSONGA TSUNAMI!
By the time he
faced Rafael Nadal, the second-seeded Spaniard, in the semifinals, even Tsonga
wondered when he would "return to earth," as he put it to the French
press. Not that night. In a virtuoso performance Tsonga didn't so much beat
Nadal as render him just another admiring spectator, left to shake his head in
wonderment at the tennis being played. Tsonga clubbed 49 winners to Nadal's 13
and out-aced him 17--2. After watching the match from a hotel room in Miami,
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker—who shares a French agent with Tsonga—was
so charged with excitement that he couldn't sleep. "He's playing with zero
pressure," said Nadal after the 6--2, 6--3, 6--2 massacre. "Everything
is going good for him, every ball is hitting the line. It can't be his real
There were strange
doings in the other half of the men's draw as well. Slowed by a pretournament
case of food poisoning, the Mighty Federer, two Grand Slam titles from tying
Pete Sampras's career record of 14, never found his groove. In the third round
he was pushed deep into a fifth set by Janko Tipsarevic, a little-known Serb.
By contrast the third-seeded Djokovic ripped through his first five matches
without dropping a set.
While most players
revere Federer and regard him as a sort of benevolent despot, Djokovic, 20,
goes light on the deference. His notorious player impersonations, a YouTube
favorite, include a spoof of Federer's meticulousness. Djokovic's mother,
Dijana, has already expressed the opinion that her son is better than Federer,
just not as experienced. Last week Novak referred to Federer as "probably
one of the best players this sport has ever had," not exactly gushing
praise for a figure who even Rod Laver willingly concedes is the greatest of
INSTEAD OF being
galvanized by this brash challenger, Federer seemed annoyed. Playing Djokovic
in the semifinals, Federer was impatient, fragile and unaccustomedly
short-tempered. After he lost the first set, frustration was apparent on his
face. Meanwhile, still ensconced in the Zone, Djokovic was almost frightening
in his accuracy from the backcourt, and he served brilliantly. His 7--5, 6--3,
7--6 win marked the first time since the 2005 Australian Open that a player
other than Federer or Nadal would win a Grand Slam title.
Djokovic was so
calm (cocky?) he had to be talked out of attending the Police concert the night
before the final. The match took place amid an atmosphere worthy of a World Cup
soccer game—the crowd was overwhelmingly pro Jo—and Tsonga sustained his
impossibly high level of play, winning the first set with a running topspin lob
that was so good it was almost silly.
Then an hour into
the match, just like that, Tsonga left the Zone. He lost the radar on his
serve. A few of his mishits risked hitting Sting, who was sitting a dozen or so
rows from the court. Tsonga's decision-making deserted him too. Djokovic,
though, continued his unerring play and seized the match. When Tsonga belted
his 41st unforced error, punctuating a 4--6, 6--4, 6--3, 7--6 defeat, Djokovic
dropped his racket, fell to his knees and kissed the court. He had won his
first Grand Slam title, and one has to believe there are more where that came
from. "I'm going to be more relieved now, coming as a Grand Slam champion
to all the tournaments in this season," he says. "I play my best tennis
on the most important events, so it's encouraging."
It was well into
Monday morning when Djokovic finally left the complex. As he made his way to
his courtesy car, a security guard called after Djokovic to congratulate him.
The new champion kept walking. Maybe he hadn't heard the man. Or maybe he was
simply still in the Zone.