The 2015 ATP season has ended the same way it started – with the tennis world marvelling at the masterfulness of Novak Djokovic.
In January, the Serbian world No1 became the first player in the Open Era to claim five Australian Open crowns. Last Sunday, his triumph in the ATP World Tour Finals made him the first in the event’s history to win it four times in a row.
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Grabbing 11 titles in 11 months, including three majors and six Masters 1000 crowns – the numbers behind Djokovic’s season are absolutely staggering.
Barring a quarter-final defeat to Ivo Karlovic in the first week of the year in Doha, Djokovic has made the final in every tournament he competed in and has amassed a remarkable 31-5 record against top-10 opposition along the way.
With 38 per cent of his wins this year coming in matches against top-10 players, Djokovic wasn’t just racking up victories, he was doing it against the very best week-in, week-out.
But Djokovic’s season was much more than a statistical masterpiece. The 28-year-old took us on a journey with him in his quest to become one of the greatest of all time. In the era of Roger Federer fanatics and Rafael Nadal loyalists, Djokovic is doing everything to expand his “NoleFam”.
This year, he gave you the sense that he wasn’t just trying to win matches. His battles were about pushing boundaries – physical, mental and everything plausible.
There was so much angst in his clashes. He’d refer to the handful of mid-match lapses he suffered as “physical crises” and he rebounded from each one of them by delivering a bagel to his opponents, as if it were punishment for thinking they had a chance.
He was overpowered by Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final – his only grand slam defeat of the season – and received the most touching standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed live. The clapping just never stopped. He looked and felt crushed, but he reacted to that setback in Herculean fashion, winning Wimbledon five weeks later.
In a way, not being successful at the French Open this year could end up being a good thing for his fans and for the tennis world in general. With the box next to Roland Garros still unchecked on his bucket list, the Serb has a major goal to chase in 2016 and we’ve seen what a hungry Djokovic looks and plays like.
Hailing from a country with little tennis tradition, Djokovic is creating his own. Four years ago, he walked into the press room at the O2 in London with boxes of chocolates and walked around handing each journalist a piece. Since then, he’s repeated that gesture in the very first and very last press conferences of each season.
.@DjokerNole captures his 5th #FinalShowdown crown, finishes 82-6 on year. https://t.co/sfWpem9hIT #atp #tennis pic.twitter.com/JHkF66kxC7
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 22, 2015
He is the first of the top players to speak out about the refugee crisis and insists, “we all have to be humans and feel for one another. We have to put that in front of all the laws and borders and different political stuff”.
Djokovic may not have the fanbase acquired by Federer or Nadal, who had a few years of a headstart, but he is all about heart and sooner or later, more people will appreciate that.
Ending the year with an equal career head-to-head record against both Federer and Nadal must have been a nice bonus for Djokovic. His rivalries against them are the two most contested in the sport and he is now on level terms against both of them.
Meanwhile, Federer walked off the court in London ranked No3 in the world but is undisputedly the second best player in tennis at the moment. Even if he doesn’t win another major, the Swiss can retire, whenever he chooses to, knowing that he was still a top dog well into his mid-30s.
To be able to still improve at the age of 34 is something only Federer can do. His timelessness will be his greatest legacy.