Is this how predictable the Men's field has become these days? Yes. Was there any real contender for Montreal Masters apart from Novak Djokovic? No. Nine titles, two majors, five masters and a solitary loss against 51 wins, only 18 sets lost against 122 won; these are numbers that even Roger Federer was not able to conjure up in his glory days of '05 and '06.
Djokovic is playing like a much improved version of Andre Agassi. The same punisher's attitude, moving his opponents from side to side and wearing them out. Of course, with a much better first serve, and supremely better movement. In his semis and final against Tsonga and Fish respectively, at a point when the matches were even (4-4 in the first set in the semis, and the opening game of the third set), Djokovic launched his famous assault. He played, and won, a brutal 27 shot rally against Tsonga, and a 33 shot rally Fish. Both players couldn't continue at the same high level thereafter. The only weakness—if it is indeed a weakness—in Djokovic's game currently, is that he has managed to lose at least one set in each of his nine titles this year.
Djokovic's victory was the only predictable event that happened in Montreal. Rafael Nadal bowed out in his opening round, so did Andy Murray. Federer himself could only win a single match before bowing out spectacularly to Tsonga in a match that provided a lot of moments for the highlights. These losses further strengthened the fact that the outrageous consistency at the top is good for the game. If some opponent is to beat these top guys, they have to play out of their skin for three hours—and that means great tennis on offer.
Jo Wilfried Tsonga—the underachiever—has been on a different level after the grass court season started, and he looked in ominous touch in this tournament too. Perhaps breaking up with his coach has given him the license to play tennis in the way he wants to play: good, first strike, aggressive tennis with lots of athleticism and flair. Federer may be the artist, Nadal may be relentless, and Djokovic may be the punisher, but its hard to find anybody who pleases and works up the crowd more than Tsonga.
If the Frenchman is slowly starting to live up to his enormous potential—he will be back in the top ten from Monday, Mardy Fish is continuing to surprise us with his success, and making further claims that he deserves to be American's top baller and a top ten player. If his consistency and fitness shot him into the top-ten last year, it is his intelligent mix of aggression and patience that was paramount to his run here at Montreal. It is not merely that he is serving and volleying every now and then, or approaching the net at the first opportunity that has been enjoyable to watch. It is the fact that he is starting to think like a pure serve and volleyer.
Throughout the tournament, he has shown great variety on serves. An ace down the T is followed by a kick serve off wide, or by a medium paced serve on the body. His opponent is constantly kept honest, which invariable has led to weak replies. Even his volleys are reminiscent of the serve-volley players of the 90s as he constantly throws down punch volleys deep into the mid court to rob his opponent any chance of angles—even for Djokovic. At one point, he had to throw three straight punch volleys at Djokovic, but lack of an angle resulted in a weak reply from Djokovic eventually, as Fish punched it for a winner. Fish has made three straight finals now, and is definitely one of the contenders for the semifinal spot at Arthur Ashe three weeks from now.
Amidst all these success stories, it will be easy to forget the failures of Rafa and Andy. Is this the start of the decline of Nadal, or is this is psychological effect of losing five straight finals to Djokovic? I remember the Rafa of 2008 or 2010 always had the edge once the match went the distance. Yet, Rafa has already lost two matches this year in a third-set tie-breaker. More worrying for him, though, is he is easily relinquishing a lead. Against Dodig, he was up a break twice in the third set and lost 7-6. Against Federer in the final of the French, he was up 4-2 in the third set only to lose five games in a row. Same against Djokovic in the second set of Madrid finals. Whether these patterns continue to affect him in future is something that I will watch with interest.
On to Cincy now.