Marking Your Territory

How would you define Bjorn Borg’s dominance?  Ivan Lendl’s?  What about Pete Sampras’ demonstrative GOAT dominion where he euthanized the end of the previous era, built a nice little British-American empire and then handsomely fought off his own demise?  How would you define Nadal’s tenure?  Objectively, fast forwarding another five years into the future, when Roger finally hangs-up the racquet, how would you define his kingdom?

The legacy I want to focus on here, however, is Djokovic’s.  He’s peaking as we speak.  What will his next 5-6 majors and the ATP beneath him feel and look like?  Who will be his rivals beyond the 34 year-old who’s doing everyone a favor, especially Djokovic.

How do you envision the Serb marking his territory? How will we characterize his development as the symbol of planetary tennis dominance?  What surfaces will define him?  What wars will leave their marks and internal scars.  Sure he’s been through a lot to this point, but what defines his next half dozen majors, his next 3-4 years?

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I could leave the post there and encourage readers to provide the insight to this topical question.  The point of asking this question is to encourage one to think about the state of the ATP and its roster of major contenders; and, of course, the question urges one to think about Djokovic’s own style, on and off the court.  We did a lot of this after Wimbledon: imagine Djokovic winning or losing the USO.  A loss could have made matters more difficult, wilted some of that lean and mean tennis self-esteem.  But #10 is in the books, manifesting last Sunday in Flushing Meadows.  Now what?

We probably agree that Djokovic will get his French connection in 2016 and complete the career grand slam.  Like the U.S. Open before 2015, he has unfinished business at Roland Garros.  Remember back to the 2014 final.  He comes rolling into Paris having just beaten Nadal in Rome.  He wins the first set of the French final, but the Spaniard inexplicably reels off 3 straight and claims his 9th FO.  2015 had a similar build-up and result.  Djokovic comes into Paris riding high, makes the final, wins the first set, and gets straighted again, this time by the Stanimal.  He has had much difficulty (like so many others) on that particular stretch of dirt.

Certainly, Djokovic will get his eventual French Open title.  You’d have to think he’s quite committed to this goal.  After all, although he is a terrific clay court player, #1 in the world, the surface can complicate tennis careers.  Does he get his one, ala Federer and Agassi, and claim membership of that exclusive club, or add 2-3 FO titles and build a balance that few resumes have?  I think Becker’s difficulty at the French doesn’t help in his quest for FO, but, again, I think he makes it an absolute mission to get the 2016 version, and who knows after that.

I was asked what majors Nole wins next year and I, in Russian roulette style, said French and Wimbledon.  Ha. Not sure who’s going to beat him at his AO, but perhaps a huge 2015 and slowing his roll early in the season will better his tennis for Paris.  I just think he has to be dreaming about the French and might almost unconsciously not begin his 2016 major advance until April.

Speaking of the Australian Open, what more can he do there except win 2-3 more of those, no?  With five in the books, it’s a venue he seems to own.  Getting 2 more of those seems like a foregone conclusion.

I answered Wimbledon above because I think that’s his little back yard at this point.  Pete and Roger did the same with their games: “at the tennis culture capital, this is my tournament.”  Djokovic plays well there; his coach played well there. Two more of those seem pretty likely.

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mid-day.com

Lastly, the U.S. Open.  I chuckle at the disdain Djokovic fanboys and fangirls threw around at the crowd bias, the Federer favoritism.  As this lack of perspective continues, they love the Swiss because he’s so elegant, so pure tennis.  Fedheads just dominate the sport, follow their idol around and trash talk his opponents.  Does that sound about right, the sort of discourse coming from all of the Djokovic blogs?

How do you think NYC would treat Djokovic if he won five Opens in a row?  No shit Roger’s a favorite, an emotional appeal.  New Yorkers know and love winners.  Federer has such an incredible legacy there, of course he’s going to get some love.  Djokovic won his 2nd, at last.  On that note, watch whatever jeers you heard turn to cheers.  You have to earn the New York City praise.  Did all of the fanboys and fangirls miss that memo?

Having said all that, I think this will continue to be a tough one for Novak (but again, who would be favored against him ANYWHERE for the next few years).  The surface and tennis are a tough combo at the end of the year, the weather can be odd and frankly “it’s a concrete jungle where dreams are made.”  I like him at the USO, on that surface, but even this year, he didn’t seem to have his incredible form (other than on those critical BPs that defined that match).

Beyond the majors, Djokovic should be able to establish that Masters slam by finally winning Cincinnati, not to mention his work will probably continue to get done at the WTF where he’s only 2 behind Roger in that quite prestigious win total.

Should be interesting to watch how Djokovic continues to carve out his legacy.  If you do just some simple math (2 more AO, FO, 2 more Wimbies, 1 more USO), 16 seems pretty accessible, a good round number.  Falling 1 or 2 short of that or tying and passing Roger could be in the cards too.  Passing Roger though would mean such an incredible, description defying run for the ages. Tough to bet against him for 3 and 4 more years.  The math can get a little nutty!

At a glance, some might be dismissive of Roger who at this age is struggling to consolidate these runs at the majors.  But he did so much damage early in his career, of course establishing a run between ’04 and ’07 that was historically silly. After that, he turned to see the tour rise up with two other GOATers in Rafa and Nole breathing down his neck.

Djokovic began his career having to deal with the other two, has overcome them and has 10 to show for it (though that took him 18 trips to the finals).  Does he have an easier run now, it’s all downhill from here?  Does the field have enough to slowdown the Serb (I looked at this question recently).  At the same time, how much did these last 5-6 years take out of the Serb?  That was a difficult ten, no?

Only time will tell, along with the literal and proverbial bounce of the ball.

6 thoughts on “Marking Your Territory

  1. Great article, as usual Matt. I like the fact that you take a wider, more distanced perspective on the ATP Tour, in your writing. The though that the value Federer, staying on tour, adds to Djokovic’s accomplishments outweighs the dangers he presents, is mostly unconventional, and most probably, right.

    The plan about Djokovic’s transferring the weight of the season a bit later to get that elusive French one is smart, but dangerous as well: if it doesn’t work (Murray pressed him hard there this year) it could spell disaster, as in my view the Wimbly is not guaranteed for Djokovic (and much less USO)-his excellent footwork gives him an advantage on grass but his return/defense is not working that well (remember Anderson/Cilic?). I think it’s imperative for him to get FO in 2016 or 2017. After 30, I can see his speed and belief diminishing and it would be a pity not to get that one. That being said I wouldn’t bet against him in 2016 in a best of five format on any surface…

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    • Tough to see him win the next two majors. You’d think his camp might have an eye on FO. There’s a lot of tennis between AO and FO. Could definitely see him winning only the FO of the two.

      It’s very risky business. Djokovic will have to maintain form. A lot of people are coming. He’s the best in the game right now, but has a lot of work to do. One point I would underscore from that post is how hard he had to work for those 10 majors. Does this mean, the next handful will be easier? I doubt it.

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  2. “Who will be his rivals beyond the 34 year-old who’s doing everyone a favor, especially Djokovic.” I would say that’s the telling point on the whole article Matt….

    If he wins 16/17/18 as you suggest then we can compare Roger and Novak’s carrier in opposite end quite easily…..if Novak reaches 18 in 3 years which means he had to win 8 out of 12 which makes other players only won 4….So isn’t that what Roger did beginning on 2003-07?

    By losing 3 GS final against Novak, Roger made his victories much bigger and meaningful…otherwise even his last 3 wins should be against someone either non-GS holder or one/two slam holders..( just like Hewitt, Safin, Roddick against roger in early part of career)….combine that with above hypothetically any one can easily argue about Novak’s no.of grand slam victories……

    This why i always think as H2H, Weak-Era stronger arguments are very complicated and may not make much sense….

    I could be wrong, but in my mind what Novak did so far probably best represents him rather than what happens in next years…

    What do you think?

    Have to agree on whole crowd part…isn’t not long ago Roger is in opposite side when he was playing Andre there in NY? I am sure Novak’s tide also turn someday…Just take it pinch of salt now and it goes by,,,In the End he got (W) which is more meaningful than anything else…

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    • “I could be wrong, but in my mind what Novak did so far probably best represents him rather than what happens in next years…
      What do you think? ”

      I think you may be right. That was a huge part of that post, what will his career look like? And as the quality of the field comes into question – Roger is the only real consistent major comp. – what’s that going to mean for Djokovic?

      Of course, he has a lot of work to do and winning another 7 or 8 seems pretty far-fetched.

      Funny, how the Djoker fanboys are busy making the weak field argument now, but that may, as you say, be what people say about Djokovic.

      Good stuff, Nambi.

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  3. Nice post man! Had a couple of things that I thought might add to the discussion.

    I think, as far as predictions/projections about Djokovic’s major-winning future are concerned, it’s important to remember how other great players have fared. Historically, decline in tennis is a very sudden thing. Just look at Nadal. Two years ago, he produced his greatest hard court season ever and had the swagger of a matador just about everywhere apart from SW19. There seemed to be no end in sight. Since then, he’s had a few injuries and is now looking like he may never win another major. Also worth noting is that for almost all of 2015, he’s been completely injury-free! So it’s more of a mental issue. It’s like he had a liposuction on his brain, and the killer instinct and bloody-mindedness that set him apart, just got sucked out. Like he’s lost confidence in his own body.

    Same with Sampras. In the span of two years, from ’99 to 2000, he just became a jaded shadow of his former self. Pete, that indomitable serial-winner SOB, who had had the audacity to go for second serve aces down match point, suddenly became easy to beat.

    This may or may not happen to Djokovic. I mean, unlike Pete, the guy has managed to avoid major injuries. He’s lithe and flexible (and seemingly made of iron). So maybe the odds are better for him. But what about the vagaries of the mind? That’s what happened to Sampras. Somewhere, he just lost passion. You never know. I think it’s almost impossible to predict when a player will start to decline.

    Also, I agree with what you say about the NY crowds. But Roger inspires levels of devotion far beyond the average tennis player, or for that matter, the average athlete. They were cheering missed first serves and double faults after all. I can understand why other players’ fan bases would feel hard done by it, but Roger has earned the adulation. He’s toiled for it.

    As you pointed out, for a long time, he was just that super-talented European guy who was single-handedly responsible for the underachievement of an entire generation of American players. I think, since his decline began (7 years ago!) and the mental frailties became more apparent (along with the struggles against Rafa and Novak), people have started appreciating him more and his popularity has soared. As a result, he’s making far more money than he was in his prime and is aa bona fide blue chip sports brand.

    Someone pointed out on Facebook that Novak’s current ranking points total of 16145 (?) is a record. Roger currently is in the 9700 range, I think. However, I still think Roger’s 2006 points total would be higher if it were scaled to today’s levels and his lead would be greater too. I recall that his total was somewhere around 8600-9000 while Nadal was number two at 4200-4700 or something. Now that’s astonishing.

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    • Good stuff, Utsav. You’re right about the difficulty to maintain that level post 30. Some would say this age limit has extended beyond what defined previous generations, that guys have more longevity ala Federer, Lopez, Karlovic (his serve helps), etc. Djokovic probably needs another 5 majors over the next two years to catch 17. Beyond 2017, who knows what will be happening with Novak or the field.

      But one of my big points is how important Roger is to Novak. Some people want to describe or incite some kind or vitriol from a website of blog; Roger respects Novak and Novak has to be looking up to the Swiss. Novak has to model his game after him. Roger is showing people how to play into your twilight years. Roger is giving Novak some competitive class. Hell, thank Roger for beating Stan, too.

      I agree this “fairwell tour” of Roger’s is tremendous tennis goods. So different from Sampras and other more typical careers. That’s the question: how will Novak’s career be defined? We shall see!

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