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?
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.
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.