Novak Djokovic began the Olympic fortnight by carrying the flag for Serbia in the opening ceremony of the London Games – and he ended it with a closing ceremony of his own Sunday, on Centre Court at the Rogers Cup.
Djokovic – the No. 1 seed and the undisputed saving grace of a tournament punctuated by injuries, withdrawals and bad weather – rolled over Richard Gasquet of France 6-3, 6-2 in a 61-minute tournament final that was interesting for about six minutes in the first game of the first set.
Gasquet had three break points in that opening game, failed to convert any of them, and it was all downhill from there. Djokovic, meanwhile, just got stronger as the match – and the week – went on.
Despite that stylish one-handed backhand and an impressive run of victories over three seeded players this week, Gasquet had no answers for Djokovic’s all-purpose game.
Djokovic talked about the difficulty of dealing with back-to-back losses to Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro that kept him off the podium at the Olympics, but said that as soon as he landed in Canada, he wanted to prove that he could rebound.
“I truly did not expect to win this tournament,” Djokovic said. “After the emotional losses in the Olympic Games, I really took it hard. I tried to bounce back and recover and I’ve done great, I’d have to say.”
In his own enthusiastic, larger-than-life way, Djokovic helped salvage an event that had black clouds – some figurative, some literal – hovering over it all week. For the first three days, when the weather was excellent, there was a steady stream of dropouts and poor performances from star players, dealing with post-Olympic stress syndrome.
From there, the skies opened for three days. Play was completely washed out Thursday and the semi-finals Saturday evening featured multiple rain delays. In between, they played a frantically compressed schedule Friday, two matches a player, to go from the round-of-16 to the semis.
Djokovic seems to get what lots of athletes don’t always understand – that when you’re playing a game for a living, it doesn’t hurt to show that you’re having fun out there. Early in the tournament, as he was recovering from jet lag, he hit a great tweener through the legs, won the point, won the game and, as he came off, gave a giant fist pump that got the crowd roaring.
Two of Djokovic’s matches – versus Sam Querrey in the third round and Janko Tipsarevic in the semi-finals – were interrupted by lengthy rain delays. His three-set quarter-final victory over Tommy Haas, which was the match of the tournament, was played on the Grandstand Court and had the start time pushed back two hours so that Haas could get sufficient rest after his victory over Radek Stepanek.
Maybe the lingering image of the tournament will be Djokovic, with umbrella in hand, rallying for five minutes on a rain-soaked centre court Thursday, so that the patient spectators had a good laugh and a few moments of fun.
“I was never in doubt to come here,” said Djokovic, who defended the title he won last year in Montreal (along with the 1,000 ranking points at stake in this event). “I really wanted to come. The two losses I had in three days in the Olympic Games gave me even more desire to come here and perform my best and try to win the title.
“This is actually a huge confidence-boost for me. I haven’t won a title since Miami [about four months ago]. I played lots of finals, but this is a great hard-court season start.”
Leading 4-3, Djokovic broke Gasquet at love in the eight game of the first set and then won his service game at love to win the first set. With Gasquet still smarting from that lull, he then dropped serve to start the second set, serving a double fault at 30-40. Djokovic broke him again in the seventh game, winning a long rally with an inside-outside forehand that clipped the side line.
In a year when Canadian Milos Raonic has had his share of unfavorable draws, this one was personally generous. He won one match and was into the fourth round.
Raonic, who was seeded 16th, will be unseeded this week at the Masters event in Cincinnati, and will play Gasquet in the opening round. However, the 180 ranking points he earned in Toronto should move him into the top 20 on Monday, leapfrogging, among others, Florian Mayer, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco. Gasquet, who was No. 21 going into the week, is going to climb, too, as will Haas and Marcel Granollers.
ANOTHER TITLE FOR THE BRYAN BROTHERS
The doubles final provided the usual high entertainment values, the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, of the United States defeating Granollers and his partner Marc Lopez of Spain 6-1, 4-6, 12-10. It remains a mystery why doubles remains an afterthought at most tournaments, considering how well the matches are received when organizers actually put them on a show court, in a front of a reasonably sized crowd.
The Bryans won the title by winning two matches on Friday and two more on Sunday.
“We played two doubleheaders, which is wild,” Mike Bryan said. “To win a tournament in two days is something unique.”
“Maybe the toughest match of the week was the first match, because we went from the Centre Court at Wimbledon, seeing the flag go up and being on the podium [as gold medalists], to playing at an indoor club in the middle of a long row of courts, no fans, bad lighting, bad bounces,” Bob Bryan said. “It was a heroic effort to keep our mind together.”