Immersive feature: at the top of tennis, Djokovic is alone | ATP circuit
And true to his word, that’s precisely what Djokovic has done this year, eclipsing Sampras’ record.
Because striving is what Djokovic does best. Since the start of his career, he relentlessly tackles his weaknesses, turning them into strengths. His second serve is no longer a handicap, the forehand, which sometimes crumbles under pressure, is almost infallible, the questionable level of fitness that once drove him to withdraw from some notable games could be his most great asset today. Djokovic’s eating, sleeping and resting habits, refined by experience and research, are the model of a professional athlete. Maybe his overhead is a bit risky, but that just means he’s actually human.
“Novak was really focused, he was always motivated,” said Ivanisevic. “He always finds some kind of motivation. He wants to be better every day. Something was working today, tomorrow is not good enough – must be perfect. That kind of guy, when they come on the pitch they just want to win, it’s that easy.
Like his strategic approach on the pitch – no one hits his points like Djokovic – there is a pattern in his No.1 finishes. Unlike Sampras, when he has done it six times in a row, Djokovic historically maintains the immense effort for two years at a time. He played three times in a row, in 2011-12, 2014-15 and 2020-21.
After Federer and Nadal combined for seven consecutive No.1s at the end of the year, Djokovic broke through 2011. He won three majors that year, which since the creation of the FedEx ATP rankings in 1973, was a 100% indicator to end on High. Connors, Mats Wilander, Nadal, Federer (3) and Djokovic (3) were 9 for 9 in this regard. Focusing more and more on the majors, as Federer and Nadal did later in their careers, has been the critical factor in Djokovic’s success.
In the seven seasons, Djokovic finished No.1, he won 47 titles, including 14 of his 20 majors, and produced a win-loss record of 430-56.
“When you start off with a win at the Australian Open at the start of the year, which I have been fortunate enough to do for nine years, it already puts you in charge of the end-of-year No.1. “Djokovic said in his interview with the ATP Tour. “Accumulating the most points in the Grand Slam and Masters 1000 tournaments is what matters most, so to speak. I had the chance to really play my best tennis in the events where I was able to collect the most points that allowed me to be in this position.
“When you start with a win at the Australian Open at the start of the year … that already puts you in charge of the end-of-year No.1.”
And Djokovic was not far from a few other No.1 finishes late in the year over the past decade. This statistic underlines his incredible consistency: In the four seasons since 2011 that Djokovic has not finished No.1, he has placed No.2 three times.
In 2013, he lost two major semi-finals to Nadal, at Roland Garros and the US Open. In Paris, Rafa closed a crazy game 9-7 in the fifth set. Djokovic lost to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, another game that would have been enough to capture the year-end No.1. Three years later, Murray defeated Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 in the Nitto ATP Final – the only time in ATP history that year-end No.1 was on the line for both. players in the last game of the year-end championship. In 2019, Djokovic finished just 840 points behind Nadal; falling to Rafa in the final in Rome, against Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals of Roland Garros and against Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of the US Open were all significant defeats.
The only one in the last 11 years that Djokovic hasn’t finished in the Top 2 was 2017, when he ended up at No.12 – but that year he missed every tournament after Wimbledon due to a right elbow injury.
Sampras is impressed that Djokovic has beaten Federer and Nadal on their favorite surfaces, where they are considered the best of all time. On the Wimbledon lawn, Djokovic beat Federer in 2014, 2015 and 2019. Similarly, Djokovic beat Nadal in 2015 and 2021 on the red clay at Roland Garros.
“What Novak has been doing for the past 10 years – I could give you all the adjectives, I mean, I don’t know what to say,” Sampras said. “He’s ready to change, he’s ready to learn more about himself. He is always looking to improve.
“I was so impressed with his transformation. From being a very talented young athlete, mentally a little fragile, to being where he is today, it’s just pretty cool to see him, just sit and watch him from the couch.