The pursuit for a Career 'Golden Masters'
Cincinnati Masters title: Missing element in Djokovic’s CV
Roland Garros might still be elusive, but Novak Djokovic looks to create another record this week. With the Western and Southern Open underway in Cincinnati this week, he would like to ensure that there is no Wawrinka-like surprise this time.
Ever since breaking Rafael Nadal's eight year hegemonial reign at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2013, Djokovic is in the hunt for a unique record in the ATP circuit. His first win at the Western and Southern Open Masters 1000 tournament will give him the unprecedented sweep of all 9 titles at that level. While Roger Federer, the holder of many records requires two more- the Monte Carlo and Rome titles, Rafael Nadal, having won the highest number of Masters tournaments so far, requires three - Miami, Shanghai and Paris Masters titles.
Dubbed as the Career ‘Golden Masters’ by the ATP, this feat has so far eluded Djokovic. While he had reached four finals in five years prior to 2013, he fell in the quarters and pre-quarters in the last two years to John Isner and Tommy Robredo respectivley. While Federer, Murray and Nadal have won in the last three years, Djokovic looks to continue the Big 4 dominance with a win this year.
In the last few years, the Big 4 have completely dominated the Masters events, with just a handful of winners coming from outside the circle. But, when it comes to the question of a career Golden Slam, Djokovic is the closest.
Completing career golden Masters is not an easy task
Federer faces the unenviable task of winning the two clay court events in Monte Carlo and Rome. During the prime days of his career, they were the strongholds of his nemesis Nadal. With Nadal now debilitated, Federer too finds it difficult to notch a few consistent wins against the best in the business. Given his age and the surface, it could be more difficult than winning a Grand Slam.
On the other hand, Nadal has reached a few finals at these events (Miami, Shanghai and Paris),only to finish second. For Nadal too, the chance of stacking his cabinet with all the nine trophies looks dim.
Andy Murray has the least number of titles among the four, but has managed to clinch five of them. The four that are missing from his collection are Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris. Though he might be able to complete it by the time he retires,he certainly does not stare at the prospect of winning all of them in the next year or two ,while the other three will look to race ahead of him.
Golden Masters in Doubles
When it comes to doubles, though, we have had Champions who have achieved the feat. Three of the game’s greats, the Bryan brothers and Daniel Nestor have won all nine titles at least once. Daniel Nestor was the first when he won the 2011 Shanghai Masters while the Bryan Brothers followed suit in 2014 with a win at the same event.
And just like Djokovic, two of the currently active players are also looking for one missing link. Leander Paes, winning slams well after forty years of age, certainly looks capable of winning the Madrid Masters, with the other eight already in his kitty. Already among the game’s greats, the other significant titles he is yet to win include the French Open Mixed doubles, an Olympic medal in doubles and surprisingly, the ATP year ending Championships. The other player in a similar situation is Max Mirnyi. The Belarussian is yet to win the coveted Indian Wells title.
Other active players close to achieving the task are Mahesh Bhupathi and Nenad Zimonjic. Bhupathi, who now sparsely plays on the ATP circuit, is yet to lift the Indian Wells and Shanghai titles. Zimonjic needs the Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai titles. With one going into semi-retirement and the other struggling with his career, neither seem poised to join the Bryan brothers and Nestor.
The road to title in Cincinnati
As it has been for the last two years, the question that looms large is whether Djokovic can make it nine on nine. He enters the fray as the top seed, on the back of a runner-up finish at Rogers Cup. On the way, his possible match against Stan Wawrinka in the quarters will be crucial. The only other player in his half who can offer major resistance is Tomas Berdych. His half of the draw has been eased with the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori and the placement of Federer, Nadal and Murray in the bottom. Yet, his path is not clear of hurdles with the likes of Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Robredo, who have beaten him in recent meetings, lingering around.
If he manages to remain unbeaten through the tournament, he will achieve a major feat that has previously not been achieved by Nadal or Federer. WIth his fans rooting for him, Djokovic looks to script history.