I'm kind of mixed about this weekend's Masters Cup final and TMC in general (more on that some other time).
On the one hand it allowed Djokovic to reemerge playing something near to his best tennis. But as many have already correctly observed, he won without playing either of the other 3 of the top 4 - and there's just something hollow about that. This is especially poignant as Murray at least, appears to have his number right now.
Without those other three, we might still have had a scintillating final if Tsonga were involved, who's had convincing wins over the Serb in their last three matches - but he was unable to get past even the round robin stages, suggesting to me that although he's the real deal, still has some maturing to do.
Watching the match against Davydenko, it became increasingly clear to me of just how ideal a match up this must have been for Djokovic. If you think about it, the players who've beaten him this year have either blown him off court (Safin, Tsonga) or given him little or no pace to work with (Murray, heck even Simon troubled him that way in the semis).
One of Davydenko's strengths is his rather fanatical aggression, but if his fiercely struck shots start coming back at him, he strikes it harder still. The trouble with this is he possesses none of the might and muscle that allowed Safin and Tsonga to impose themselves so successfully over Djokovic - add in a big serve and you can understand why Nole was left reeling.
But neither can Kolya fall back on the type of 'softer' hand skills that Murray and others use to flummox and just plain irritate their opponents. The result of this was that the final on Sunday ended up, from Djokovic's point of view at least, being little more than a practice session where he was rhythmically fed balls at just the right level of pace, depth and consistency and almost invited to fire winner after winner pretty much wherever he liked.
I'm not going to criticise Novak too much; I did after all (somewhat to my amazement) choose to back him after he showed several promising and much needed improvements in taste and temperament this year (maybe a less successful spell was exactly what he needed), and its not his fault Murray and Federer chose to reenact their very own 'Thrilla in Manilla' (or as close as you could get in three sets). And there can be no doubting he's the real deal; he did after all beat Federer in Montreal, and Nadal in Miami last year - there were no mitigating circumstances there.
So I'm going to hope that in 2009, along with the great tennis we already appreciate, he continues down this road of new found sensibility - just don't get too nice Novak, we'll only bring you down again!
Djokovic image by GavinZ under licence