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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Jan 14, 2009

1/14/2009 3:35:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Jan 14, 2009

The men's '08 Wimbledon final showed that, at the end of the day, there's a clear distinction between the top two players in the world and everyone else. But that's not to say the two bridesmaids battling it out to take their thrones don't have every capability of making them the bridesmaids in '09. 

They just won't.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are rock stars of the game, but there are three ingredients to being a champion, a true #1, and they each fall one short. Wouldn't you know, it's the same one.

1. Mad Skills

All the talk right now is on Andy Murray, and rightfully so. There's no other player hotter, having dismissed King Rafa and Prince Fed (demotions are so demeaning) in an exhibition earlier this month in Abu Dhabi and Fed again last week in Qatar. He's got all the momentum in the world, including going 8-0 in his last eight meetings with the top 3. Murray's attitude adjustment on court and his training off court have allowed his shotmaking to take center stage. And when he's on, there's very little an opponent can do.

Novak Djokovic also has skills for days, something he demonstrated powerfully this time last year in his wins over Roger in the AO semis and a seemingly unstoppable Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (no slouch in the fitness department himself) in the final. Nole's strong, he's more flexible than a member of the girls Chinese Olympic team, and he can hold his breath under water for almost a full 15 seconds. He may have stumbled out of the gate in '09 (congrats Ernests Gulbis), but placing bets against him, especially in the first half of the year, would be nuts.

2. Ego

Murray and Djokovic have ego to spare. Pull up a chair in any of their press conferences and bring popcorn. Personally, I think it's both hilarious and necessary. You've got to believe you can win in order to win. 

Andy Murray has ego but does he have Heart?
Sometimes ego can get the better of you. Novak rode it to Aussie success. And then it bucked, threw him and then sat on his head. After achieving the success he knew was in him, the jovial prankster with his imitations and goofy grin took a hike, replaced by something a bit more nefarious. It was like Ugly Betty finally got everything she ever dreamed of and then became an uber-beyotch wreaking revenge on all who had dared to stand in her way (apologies Andy Roddick and Arthur Ashe Stadium). Maybe all Novak needs is braces. I'll shoot him a text.

Meanwhile, Murray flashes his ego every time he flashes his bleached zeppelin of a bicep. So we've got that covered.

Which brings us to the final ingredient necessary to truly grab the reins of men's tennis. And it's the one they're both still lacking on their resume.

1. Heart

Don't get me wrong, Novak and Andy have heart. But it's with a small "h." A small "h" heart will win you a marathon 5-setter against Richard Gasquet in front of your home crowd. A small "h" heart will get you through more than one third-set rollercoaster against a 13-time Grand Slam singles winner. A small "h" may even get you to #1. But it won't let you stay there.

Capital "H" Heart will keep you in a Wimbledon final past most everyone else's bedtime. Capital "H" Heart will hang posters on little kids' walls. Capital "H" heart will have the crowd on your side because they know you're playing for them as much as you're playing for yourself. Which I'm not convinced either of them are really doing. 

Their lack of Heart is best exemplified when they play each other. Check out Murray's 7-6, 7-6 win over Djokovic in Cincinnati last year. The shotmaking was incredible. The ego was spraying all over like busted sprinkler. Yet it wasn't on anyone's Best Of list because it lacked that X-Factor. It was a show, not an experience.

That's not to say neither man can up the ante. However hot Murray is right now, I see more potential for it in Djokovic. Still, they'll both be around long enough to grow into it. Or maybe these good buddies can bring it out in each other the way Federer and Nadal did. 

But until they do, Roger and Rafa's crowns are safe. Whatever happens Down Under.