“If he was running for President, everyone would vote for him,” said a Serbian expat, moments after his countryman and hero Novak Djokovic won his 11th Grand Slam title – his fourth in 365 days out of the last five Slams in his 17th consecutive tournament final.
These are astounding numbers, yes, but Djokovic’s run stands for much more. He comes from a country that was put on the map majorly by the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic only a few years before Novak hit his stride as a young player on the circuit.
That he won his 6th Australian Open title – equal to Roy Emerson – is not really a surprise. The man has won everything there is to win in the last few years, and he won 11 titles in 2015. This included three Slams, six Masters titles including the season-ending World Tour Final.
But his opening two titles of 2016 have been equally compelling. He won at Qatar by demolishing Rafael Nadal in the final. He won at Melbourne after powering through Roger Federer and Andy Murray in the semis and finals respectively. In the process, he also became the only player in the world to have a winning record against Federer (23-22), Murray (22-8) and Nadal (25-23).
He has also overtaken all-time leader Roger Federer in the prize money race, and is closer to the 100 million-mark already, despite winning only 11 to Federer’s 17.
French Open (He lost to Stan Wawrinka in last year’s final, and this will be a blot on his legacy if he doesn’t manage to win one soon).
Cincinnati Open (This is the ONLY Masters title missing from his collection. He has lost to Federer four times in the final. The quicker courts don’t suit him here).
Olympic Gold Medal (In the 2012 Olympics, he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in the Bronze Medal match, four years after he won the Bronze in Beijing).
He has a chance to win all three of these missing titles in 2016. Rafael Nadal has won an Olympic Gold (2008), Davis Cup, all four Slams, but doesn’t look primed to add many more. Moments after winning his 11th Major, he admitted that winning the Gold at Rio in the Singles tournament was his “top priority” this year.
If Djokovic wins these three missing trophies this year, he will be mentioned in the same breath as Roger Federer as the greatest tennis player of all time. He is only 28, and has a good two years left at the top, considering the fact that NO young player is even close to challenging him. Moreover, it isn’t the Big Four anymore. It’s Novak Djokovic and the Big Three, who are far behind him right now.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray lost his fifth Australian Open final (has won only two of his 10 Major finals) in a rematch of the 2015 final. It is the fourth time he lost to the same opponent, who he grew up with on the junior circuit.
In the process, Djokovic joined the likes of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg in the all-time Majors list with 11, only three behind Nadal and Pete Sampras. No surprise then, that he kissed the Rod Laver arena floor as soon as he won his sixth title here (out of 6 finals) in the last seven years.
Think about it. 365 days ago, Djokovic was on seven Grand Slams, and has lost seven times in the finals. Now he is on 11, finishing runner-up eight times, adding only another French Open final loss to the list. That defeat against Wawrinka against the run of play will hurt. He will want to make things right this year.
This is already the Djokovic era. He will want to make tennis the Djokovic game.
11: Grand Slams he has won
19: Grand Slam Finals reached
5: Year-end titles (second to Federer’s 6)
4: Year-end no. 1 rank
184: Number of weeks as the World no. 1
26: Number of ATP 1000 Masters titles, second only to Nadal’s 27
163: Number of wins over top-10 players