By Ben Fisher, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.
TORONTO - For yet another year, the Rogers Cup has served as a playground for the game’s greats, crowning Novak Djokovic for a third time and extending what has been an impressive roll call of champions.
Since 2004, the list of titleholders at Canada’s Masters Series event has included four names: Djokovic (2007, 2011, 2012), Roger Federer (2004, 2006), Rafael Nadal (2005, 2008) and Andy Murray (2009, 2010).
The fact that the quartet happens to comprise what is known as the "Big Four" in men’s tennis is no coincidence – it speaks to both the importance of the tournament, as well as the state of the game.
"I was never in doubt of coming here - I really wanted to come," said Djokovic after his championship-clinching victory. "The two losses that I had in three days in Olympic Games gave me even more desire to come here and perform my best and try to win a title."
For many top ATP players, the Rogers Cup represents the dawn of the North American hard court season after months spent on clay and grass. As such, it offers an early indication of who is carrying momentum into Cincinnati and, then, the US Open. Djokovic, in fact, used his 2011 title in Montreal to propel him to wins at each of the following two events.
"Hard court is my most preferred surface, and I love playing in Canada," said Djokovic. "This is great success for me."?
It may not seem like much of a stretch to suggest that Djokovic is a top US Open contender, but he hasn’t exactly found himself at the center of the ATP universe of late. In tennis circles, he has recently been overshadowed by Federer, the Wimbledon champ and current No. 1; Murray, the gold medalist and British hero, and even Nadal, albeit for the wrong reasons. His own results (Wimbledon semis, Olympic fourth place finish) have hardly been poor, but they also haven’t warranted much buzz, particularly after a standout 2011.
For Djokovic personally, the challenge is to avoid overreacting to any result, be it a win or loss. Just as he had to keep his confidence up in the face of a few disappointing defeats, he also knows that there’s still a long way to go to return to top form -- and that success can be fleeting.
"My job is to win every match that I play and try to get as many titles as possible - everything else falls up," said Djokovic. "Andy and Roger were the best two players in last month and a half, and so it's normal. It shifts; it changes."
Of course, you don’t win the Rogers Cup by sheer luck. History has proven that.