Tennis Prose



Is Carreno Busta the kryptonite of Djokovic?

The natural evolution of tennis appears to be heading to Novak Djokovic breaking the all-time Grand Slam record of 20 he shares with Federer and Nadal. But the Tennis Gods have a wicked sense of humor and it is not yet known if they will permit – or forbid – Djokovic from reaching the hallowed 21 first.

One man has surprisingly emerged as the most aggravating and irritating roadblock for Djokovic’s history-making quest. That man is Pablo Carreno-Busta. Busta broke Djokovic’s heart at the US Open last year when he saved three straight set points while serving at 4-5 and love-40. Busta reeled off five straight points – two of which were winners off lines – and then he broke Djokovic in the following game to take a shocking 6-5 lead over the world no. 1. It was at that point Djokovic snapped mentally and hit a ball at a lineswoman, hitting her in the throat. He was defaulted.

Djokovic avenged Busta at Roland Garros a month later, but he lost the tense first set 46 62 63 64.

They played again at the Olympics and Djokovic again was not able to handle Busta on hard courts, losing in three riveting sets for the bronze medal. Djokovic had lost in the semis to Zverev, which killed his gold medal and Golden Slam dreams.

So Djokovic has failed twice in a row to beat Busta on hard courts in high pressure, high stakes matches. If they are to clash again at the 2021 US Open, some astute handicappers might even make Busta the odds-on favorite.

For some reason Busta is not intimidated or phased by the aura of Djokovic and his seemingly unbeatable game seems to match up perfectly with the 11th ranked Spaniard. Busta seems to relish the long rallies and constantly hits the shots that annoy Djokovic and force him out of his comfort zone.

Busta vs Djokovic cross court backhands are an even proposition most of the time. And the Busta forehand regularly inflicts damage. Of all the players in the ATP, Busta is the most frustrating for Djokovic right now on hard courts. He is his “kryptonite.”

When Djokovic plays Busta, he wears a demeanor that he expects to win and when the task becomes difficult it’s hard for him to believe and accept that he actually has to work so hard to summon his very highest level of play to win. He expects Busta to falter like the rest. But he does not. For some reason Busta has the strong belief that he is better, stronger, tougher than Djokovic and he can beat him.

So Djokovic is forced to go all out, and hit the winners from court positions in the big moments that only a few players can challenge him to do. That’s a 50-50 ballgame.

This is not an unusual rivalry situation. Certain all time great champions have had big troubles with lower ranked players in the past. An example is Pete Sampras lost a half dozen times each to Petr Korda and Wayne Ferreira, yet Ferreira could never beat Andre Agassi, who had a poor record vs Sampras.

Marat Safin could not handle the game of Fabrice Santoro or Jonas Bjorkman.

And now we know Novak Djokovic has an extremely problematic time to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta. Their head to head stands now at 4-2 for Djokovic, but Busta has won two of the last three.

Will Busta once again break the heart of Djokovic at the US Open, to deny him Grand Slam no. 21?

You can be pretty sure Djokovic would prefer to play just about anyone else but Busta, given their recent hard court history.

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