For the second time in two months, World No. 1 and the best tennis player on the planet by a mile Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in a Grand Slam Final. He defeated Federer in four sets at Wimbledon, followed by another clinical almost predictable ebb-and-flow final at Flushing Meadows.
With his win, Djokovic won his 10th Grand Slam – his 3rd of the year 2015. He reached all four finals, but fell to Stan Wawrinka in a heartbreaking French Open Final, which kept him from winning the ‘Grand Slam’. He will, once again, finish the year as World No. 1.
The man Novak defeated in both finals is also the greatest male tennis player of all time. Roger Federer had dominated tennis in an unprecedented manner between 2004 and 2007, before the likes of Nadal and Djokovic took over the scene with their physical, animalistic brand of tennis. But Federer is still one of the two best players in the world in 2014. At age 34, he has slowed time down better than other fading greats. He does know a thing or two about being the best in the world – over a sustained, all-encompassing period of time. In 2009, he reached all the four Grand Slam Finals, and won two of them, including the elusive French Open. In 2005, he won 81 of 85 matches, including three grand slam titles. Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Ivan Ljubicic were laid to sword in most of these tournaments, and Federer had captured imaginations like nobody else. Then, Nadal did. And now, Djokovic, during Nadal’s ‘era’, is doing the same.
And the jury is out. Out of these three greatest players of their generations, who is the more dominant one? It doesn’t come down to head-to-head rivalry, finals and tournament victories. It comes down to sustained excellence – the kind of aura a player creates every time he enters a tournament. You know for a fact that Novak Djokovic will reach the final of every tournament he plays – just like Roger did in 2005 and 2006. You know that, over a match of 5 sets, Djokovic will win against the best players in the world. It’s a fact!
He has mastered the art of scrapping for wins, and making it look less dominant than they usually are. All three players have won three Grand Slams in a year – Nadal in 2010 and Federer thrice in 2004, 2005 and 2007 – but Djokovic has done it twice, in 2011 and now 2015 in an era where Andy Murray is at his best, Nadal has come and gone many times, and Federer, Wawrinka have consistently been at the top. Djokovic has, more often than not, had to beat three of the four top players to win any of his majors. Over the last two years, Djokovic has shown that a player doesn’t need to win more than two majors a year to be a dominant, intimidating force.
Whenever he has been beaten (Wawrinka in French Open 2015 and Australian Open 2014, Kei Nishikori in US Open 2014) in a major, it has been the upset of the tournament. It becomes an event of humongous proportions. It’s almost that one match that spells the end to his dream of churning through all the majors – as of now. It has only been mental blips that have stopped him; he is physically and tactically almost assured of winning every match he plays in. And yet, he is mentally the toughest player in the last 20 years – when guys like Nadal, Hewitt, David Ferrer and Federer have been around. He makes up for his lack of variety with his ability to play and prey on weaknesses, with pinpoint precision and a scary ability to win every big career-changing point. Federer has suffered heartbreaking defeats to him in the US Open many times, often losing match points and then exiting the tournament.
That’s the kind of status Djokovic has earned, and one has lost count of the number of times he has stepped his game up against Murray and Federer in crucial matches. He loses the odd Masters final to the same players, but come Grand Slam week, Djokovic is a machine that oils itself. When this season began, I had predicted that he would win all four majors – only Rod Laver has done it (twice), and nobody has accomplished it in the modern era. He came painfully close – so much so that the French Open Final almost made him want to quit for a few months. You’d think any World No. 1 who hasn’t won in Paris would lose motivation (after all, what do you work for when everybody already knows that you can win everything else?) – but Djokovic soldiered on, scrapped through Wimbledon and has now created a formula in best-of-5 finals, which Federer has been unable to crack three times in a row, dating back to the 2014 Wimbledon final.
There was a time when even Djokovic at his best would lose to an underperforming charging Federer, but right now, the Serb is perhaps finding his place as the greatest ‘greatest’ player of his generation. Perhaps more calculative than Federer was at his peak, and more relentless than Nadal at his best.
Federer will remain the greatest of all time, and Nadal the greatest of a generation, but Novak Djokovic will always remain the best dominant player of any generation.