Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri: A champion's belief

Belief was the underlying theme of this year's US Open. The men's champion, Novak Djokovic, had it in plenty. Roger Federer had it right until the finals, and then just as suddenly he lost it against Djokovic. It was a match that Federer will rue; one that was his for the taking until he lost the belief. Belief is what Serena Williams lacked when she had luck, destiny, ability and a massive home court advantage on her side. History was Williams' but then the pressure overran her belief. Perhaps it was the weight of expectations that dogged her, or perhaps it was the realisation of just how easy her path to history had become in the absence of her most dangerous rivals that made her falter short of the finish line. 2015 witnessed outstanding seasons by Djokovic and Williams, and opened the door for a more meaningful greatest of all time debate.

Federer and Williams will likely have each made an enduring claim to be the greatest ever men's and women's tennis players, respectively, by the time they retire. But Federer's place is under attack by Djokovic who when he turns 30 in May 2017, could be within striking distance of Rafael Nadal (currently) and Pete Sampras' tally of 14 slams.

This year's Open made many things clear. It proved the Big 4 is now a non-factor; that Nadal may never win another major, especially if he doesn't seriously contend at next year's French Open; how Andy Murray, more than anyone else, lacks the belief that he can win another major; and, that there is no real contender to challenge Djokovic consistently once Federer and Nadal are actually past their prime.

Stan Wawrinka will be the most awkward opponent for Djokovic on occasion, but will require magical performances to beat him. In all likelihood that will not happen frequently because he too lacks the belief that he will emerge champion at every major that he plays. So, Djokovic is in pole position to win multiple majors between January 2016 to September 2018 if he can stay healthy, stay focused, stay hungry and ensure his level of confidence and performance stays close to its peak. That gives him 12 shots at winning eight or more majors. There are of course challenges, but none on the immediate horizon. His challenges are these. He is yet to win at Roland Garros, and will continue to be tested by Nadal, Wawrinka, and other clay court specialists. Federer will give him trouble at Wimbledon and maybe the US Open, for the next couple of years. Murray if he gets his mojo back, can challenge him at all four majors, and may outlast him at Wimbledon and the Open. A young player with the game to challenge Djokovic may emerge, and challenge Djokovic consistently. Federer and/or Rafa may win a couple of more majors in the next few years, making the target even harder to eclipse for Djokovic. The biggest challenge however is Djokovic himself - if for any reason his belief, fitness or form drops off even slightly, the fight to remain at the top will be a trickier one once he's north of 30.

For Federer, the question is whether he can win another major. He can, but needs good fortune and fate. A favourable draw and for someone else to take out Djokovic and Nadal prior to the semi-finals and finals, would open his window of opportunity wide. If he is lucky, it will happen when he still has the ability to make it count. Federer can beat anyone but he cannot beat Djokovic at his current level, and Nadal at a major will always have the edge no matter his form. Everyone else is fair game, and Federer is doing his part to put himself in contention to have luck help him turn the corner.

The Djokovic-Federer rivalry is the best in game now and has a jagged edge to it. Djokovic is a modern day Lleyton Hewitt with more game, more ability, more confidence, more charisma, and a champion's belief. Federer brings out the feisty defiance in Djokovic leading him to channel his inner Hewitt, and Djokovic brings out the testy tentative in Federer, making him appear defensively mortal. Should Djokovic lose a step in speed, endurance, or confidence, and Federer maintain this year's form, the next year will be one as epic as any in recent memory. 2016 should be one for the ages.

The author leads the sports law practice at J. Sagar Associates. Views are personal.

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