When we talk about the greatest tennis players of modern era or history rather, Djokovic’s legacy is cemented amongst the pantheon of the best ever to grace the sport. It is remarkable to dominate the sport in certain aspects which even betters the eminent Federer and Nadal. He has a personality on and off the court which garners love and respect in the eyes of some while the remaining continue to dislike him. Even to the extent of loathing. Whether you adore him or be a cynic, he lets his achievements speak for himself. In his 18th year of professional career, he still reigns supreme as the best player in the game.
Calm down now, the rankings say so. He is on the verge to finish 2020 as the no.1 player which will equal Pete Sampras’ record of finishing the year as the best-ranked player for the 6th time. In a year which derailed professional sports, he managed to win 4 titles including an astounding 8th Australian Open. He became the first male player in the open era to win a grand slam in three different decades which was later matched by Nadal. He won his 35th Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati equalling Nadal’s record of most ATP Masters 1000 title wins. In doing so, he became the first player in the history of the sport to complete multiple masters sets. Surely these should be enough to validate his ranking. But why does it feel as if he has underachieved in 2020 despite all these accomplishments?
Great players are not judged by their winnings but rather their losses as there are so few. Every move they make is analyzed through a microscopic lens. In Djokovic’s case, it quickly turns into criticism. More often than not, it’s undeserved but he would surely like to wipe a few recent events off his and people’s memory. When things took a turn for the worse for the sporting world, Djokovic came up with a much-needed respite. He announced that he would be organizing an exhibition event with fellow players in Serbia and Croatia. This had the possibility of setting up a benchmark for the authorities on the possibility of the events amidst the pandemic. Rather it turned out to be an irresponsible and mismanaged spectacle opening the floodgates for bad omen.
Despite its best intention, the event was destined for failure from the start. The players, organizers and the fans didn’t follow any safety protocols. The players played basketball- a heavy contact sport, hugged each other during the games, handshakes, and the worst of all, partying in a packed nightclub. Fans didn’t care enough to wear masks or practice social distancing norms and weren’t forced to do so either by the organizers. The result was inevitable. Grigor Dimitrov dropped the first bomb by announcing his positive COVID test which was followed by similar announcements from Troicki, Djokovic and his wife and coaching staff including Goran Ivanisevic. The remaining tour was cancelled followed by a backlash from the media and tennis fraternity. This was Djokovic’s only encounter with controversy during the pandemic but one which isn’t worth forgetting soon.
Soon after this Djokovic resigned as President of ATP Players’ Council to lead a new players association named Professional Tennis Players Association. Kevin Anderson succeeded Novak as the president. This wasn’t a rash decision but something which Djokovic had set his eyes upon since 2018. It has seen mixed reactions from the players with some perceiving it as a positive change for the players while others viewing it as a divisive step in the tennis world. More than 60 players have since broken up from the current council and joined hands with the Serb. ATP, ITF, WTA and a few other councils openly wrote to the players to maintain unity, especially during these tough times.
While the fellow Big 3 members along with Murray have voiced their opinion opposing this new council, Djokovic feels it is a must needed change to benefit the players and help them gain more rewards for their efforts. ATP council has labelled it as a short-sighted project with Djokovic failing to recognise the contributions of ATP since 2012. While Rome wasn’t built in a day, it still is a mystery how the new council will shape up and co-exist with the ATP. With questions arising about Djokovic’s leadership with the Adria tour disaster, he can prove everyone wrong by guiding the PTPA to a success.
While Nadal wasn’t participating in the US Open from a health security perspective, Djokovic had a great opportunity to bridge the gap between him and Fedal in the majors. Djokovic was initially reluctant to participate in the US Open due to the limitation of the entourage to only one extra person per player. Djokovic was a heavy favourite heading into the competition. All it took was a single moment of recklessness to turn the outcome of the competition. In his 4th round match against Pablo Carreno Busta, little did he know that he would be moving one step closer to the exit gate rather than the quarter-final. While Djokovic has been a gritty opponent on the court for so many years now, irritation can slowly creep up on even the best. After losing a break against his opponent, the Serb took a ball from his pocket and hit one of the line judges in an act of frustration.
He apparently hit it too hard for officials to show him no mercy. As per the rules, he could have escaped the incident with a game point penalty had the officials been a bit lenient. To add salt to the wounds, United States Tennis Association subtracted all his ranking points collected during the tournament and fined him the prize money he would have won if not for the incident. We got a new grand slam winner apart from the Big 3 for the first time since US Open 2016. We do not associate this McEnroesque eccentricity with Djokovic but he would surely like to shrug this one-off episode and look forward to adding more majors under his belt.
The opportunity would present itself to Djokovic yet again in the next major. But he wasn’t a favourite anymore. Everyone’s a gangster until the real gangster walks in. Rafael Nadal was going to defend his title as the King of Clay at 2020 French Open. Djokovic and Nadal cruised through their fixtures to set up a meeting in the final. While you wouldn’t dare pick anyone over Nadal on the Court Philippe-Chatrier, Djokovic liked his odds to trump Nadal. Djokovic had been successful only once in their 7 encounters in the French Open, yet he seemed confident when he addressed the media saying “Nadal is beatable on Clay”.
Even though Djokovic wasn’t his 100%, it wouldn’t have mattered. Nadal was untouchable in the Final. There’s a reason many have tried and all have failed. Djokovic was demolished in straight sets with his worst performance in a grand slam final. He won a total of 7 games and lost the first set 6–0. First for Djokovic in his illustrious grand slam final career. Nadal and Federer jointly sit atop the mountain with 20 majors with a decent gap between them and Djoker. With the cancellation of 2020 Wimbledon, the Serb would look to start 2021 with a bang to eventually surpass his bitter rivals.
Djokovic was ready to move past this dismal performance by winning the Vienna Open. It would have guaranteed his number 1 ranking despite the future results. Who knew lightning could strike twice for Novak. He was facing Lorenzo Soregno in the Quarter Final. Novak’s victory was all but certain. Who knew Lorenzo would win the jackpot playing with the house money? Lorenzo shocked the world by beating Djokovic in straight sets becoming the first Lucky Loser to achieve this feat. What’s a Lucky Loser you ask? Highest ranked individual who lost in the final qualifying draw but could still make it to the tournament because someone who made it through withdrew from the tournament. Djokovic managed to win only 3 games in 2 sets in the joint highest defeat of his career since 2005 Australian Open match against Marat Safin.
While this has only been his third defeat of this year, the nature of these defeats suggests otherwise. Djokovic in the past few years has made us habitual of seeing him lift every trophy possible. Is he losing the focus in this race with early exits in the tournaments? Djokovic will still remain the favourite going for the next couple of years for at least 3 majors giving him the best chance to top the list for most majors in history. He surely has a track record with an upper hand in his rivalry with Federer and Nadal. The only player in the history who can boast this.
The one thing why people hate Djokovic is due to his authority in the era of Federer and Nadal. If not for him, Fedal would have amassed many more titles which would have needed a separate house of its own. When you see someone replace your heroes on the top, you try not only to find a weakness in his game but glorify every chink in his armour. I view this as an ultimate sign of fear and respect, which is hard to admit by his haters. I have always been a supporter and fan of some character in any sport. It not just keeps the competition alive but makes the sport a lot more entertaining. What’s better is when this character can back it all up with his racket. When it’s all done and dusted character has every opportunity to be the greatest ever to do it when it’s all done and dusted. Go on Novak, you can talk the talk because you have walked the walk.