We all remember that moment, it's the semifinals of the U.S. Open, September 2011, and Federer is serving at 5-3 in the fifth set, up 40-15 after two loose return errors from Djokovic. Novak walks to the duece-court to return serve, get's in his quintessential low, wide-based stance, looks at his camp to the left and very calmly, cooly, nods, as if to say "I've got this". Federer connects with a first serve sliding fast and wide to Novak's forehand, Novak lunges and with a stomp vaporizes the ball short cross-court for a winner to save match point.
That return against Roger, on that balmy night in September, marked the start of what I will term the "Savage Novak Period". He had already had an incredible 2011 up to that point, but that return and his victory in that match lit the fire that would go on to propel Djoko to one of the most dominant ~5 year stretches from 2011 to June 2016 that tennis has ever seen.
The way I see it, Novak has gone through three phases in his career:
1. The Angsty/Villain Novak Period (2006-2010)
This is early career Novak when he was still retiring from matches left, right and center, and had weird breathing problems all the time (remember that?). His body language on court was still typically pretty shit, always moping about something, blaming the balls, crowd or courts for his misfortune. This certainly, wasn't his best period, but he did do a few things I loved. He was the talented, relentless machismo villain shaking things up at the top of the game by beating the likes of Roger and Rafa. At that point, he wasn't yet a crowd favorite, but he knew it and embraced it. I liked Villain Novak because he played with a chip on his shoulder and fire in his heart.
2. The Savage Novak Period (2011-2016)
I really don't need to go into too much detail here. Mate, this guy probably had like 12 unforced errors in this entire 5 year period, the dude did not fucking miss, he was electric. Roger and Rafa beat him here and there, but if you look at their records against him over this period it is wildly lopsided; he was utterly dominant. Players weren't simply intimidated to play him, a Novak matchup was straight up tragic - almost certain death by baseline destruction.
3. Nice Guy Novak (2016-Current)
I fucking hate Nice Guy Novak, he's dreadful. He doesn't win, he's mentally enigmatic, and what the fuck is this new "give-my-heart-to-you" celebration? Every time I watch him do it I want to yell "stop being a fucking poof!" Watching him lose to Marco Cecha-whatever after nearly being up 5-1 in the 4th made me want stab my eyes hot needles. And after the match he steps over the net and gives the guy a big hug like their best mates?? Fucking hell bro, wheres the fire?! I'm not saying go full on Fabio Fognini and be a total cunt, but the dude just beat you in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, shake his hand and get the fuck out. I'm bloody sick of Nice Guy Novak.
My only hope is that somewhere between Paris and Belgrade he goes and visits some mystical old shaman lady with one eye and 12 tits who tells him if he doesn't stop being such a bender then his career will be over before he knows it.
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