Novak Djokovic towers over tennis tour as elite head to London finale

Novak Djokovic has, arguably, put together an even more impressive season than his sparkling 2011 campaign

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

The world No1, Novak Djokovic, has done it before, of course, with his ground-breaking season of 2011: 10 titles that included three Grand Slams and a slew of Masters titles to stand atop the rankings for the first time.

But in winning a record sixth Masters in Paris Bercy on Sunday, the impregnable Serb super-star has, arguably, put together an even more impressive season—and there may well be more to come as the elite eight men in tennis prepare for the ATP World Tour Finals in London

Djokovic’s 2011 was certainly one of those special seasons, the kind of year that brings a perceptible shift in the old order. Yes, he had won a Grand Slam in 2008, the first of what would become a record five in Australia this year. He had also started to gather a few Masters titles, and his first Masters Cup.

But riding a wave of self-belief after leading Serbia to its first Davis Cup victory at the end of 2010, Djokovic would not lose another match until the semi-finals of the French Open in 2011: a 43-match streak that took in the Australian Open, Dubai, and four back-to-back Masters titles. What’s more, he scored victories over the ‘king of clay’ in both Madrid and Rome. And with no warm-up event on grass, Djokovic then swept to his first Wimbledon title and No1 ranking.

The extraordinary run continued with the return to North America’s hard courts, garnering the Roger’s Cup title, a final run in Cincinnati and the US Open title. That would be title No10, and despite a slight falling off of form as fatigue began to play its part, Djokovic ended the year with a 70-6 win-loss tally, 21 wins over top-10 players, and a record purse of over $12.6 million.

The intervening years have been far from slim when it comes to titles and ranking, of course, but in 2015, Djokovic has set the bar higher even than in 2011.

Not just 10 titles, but three Grand Slams and a record six Masters. Not just four additional finals, but the final of that fourth Major—the French Open—and two more in Masters.

Since winning the Australian Open, he has reached the final of every tournament—that’s an Open era record 14 in a row—and has been beaten by only three men: Roger Federer twice, and once each by Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Weighed against those losses, however, is a record 27 top-10 wins this year.

In compiling 78 match-wins, he has set a new high of 39 Masters match-wins in a year, a new record for hard-court Masters titles, 19, and become the only man to win the Indian Wells-Miami double three times,

And while he may have lost out on the French Open title this summer, he did join the illustrious company of Federer and Rod Laver in becoming only the third man to make the finals of all four Majors in the same season, and that in addition to reaching the finals of all eight Masters he played.

But just by winning a record fourth Paris Masters this weekend, Djokovic has built on some quite stunning longer-standing runs.

His arrival in Paris 12 months ago, little more than a week after the birth of his first child, heralded the start of a current 87-5 run as he sailed through to the end of 2014 for the loss of just one set. That takes him to a staggering 16 finals from 17 tournaments—and 12 titles—as he heads to the defence of his O2 title in London.

Go back still further to his opening-match loss in Paris-Bercy in 2012, and he has not lost on an indoor hard court since: 35 straight wins, plus three more on indoor clay.

I was fortunate to gather advice on how I should think about everything

Novak Djokovic

And then there is Djokovic’s hold over the No1 ranking. As the two ranking tables converge in time for the World Tour Finals, Djokovic has held the top spot for almost 18 months and accumulated 172 weeks as No1—fifth on the all-time list. What’s more, he sealed the year-end No1 for the fourth time months ago, and there is no sign of his relinquishing that hold for months to come: with over 15,000 points, he has almost twice the number of Andy Murray in second place.

So 2015 has yielded, and will continue to yield, record-making numbers for the tennis player who has eliminated almost every weakness in his game, his mental fortitude, and his physical resilience. It is a dominance that has earned him more this year than ever before, over $16 million in prize money.

Another unbeaten run in London would fetch more than $2 million more, 1,500 points more, and a fourth straight World Tour Finals title in a total of five. And to measure this 28-year-old’s achievement against some of the brightest and best of the Open era, that would equal Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl and close to within one title of record-holder Federer.

Djokovic talked to about how he has attained such a level in such a high-quality era. It comes, it seems, from setting no limits, accepting no short cuts, and from a perfectionist’s mindset.

“Ever since very early childhood days, I have been surrounded with people who were very professional, very knowledgeable about the sport and lifestyle that is required for an athlete to reach the peak of his sport,” he said.

“I think I have inherited that, first of all, from my parents [and from] coaches, mentors that have shaped me into the person and player I am today. I was fortunate to gather advice on how I should think about everything. Not just practice itself but recovery, nutrition and the psychological part, as well.”

Now arguably at his physical peak, he is at the happy juncture where experience and the regular challenge of great rivals are supplementing his tactical game, too.

“I think there are a few reasons why I have managed to reach my peak at this stage of my career. In terms of physical and mental ability, I have reached my peak experience wise. I did go through periods of doubts when I wasn’t as successful [but that] all served as a great lesson, as a way to improve and to get better. So this season, everything came together.”

He added: “I try to work on my game all the time, because I know that the only way I can stay successful is to continue progressing. I’m not trying to keep the status quo, because for me, that’s a regression. I just try to improve all the time, work on certain things in my life and my game, and hopefully get better in the process.”

So as if Djokovic’s winning ways this year have not been enough, it seems he is intending to find more, still to reach his peak. It’s a daunting prospect for the rest, and perhaps a sign that he’s ready to tick off another record before 2015 is done.

With the World Tour Finals title he would achieve a new personal season’s record 11 titles—and what a way to round out the year, and throw down the gauntlet for yet another record run at the Australian Open.

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