If you were reading any of the comments on my blog the last couple of days, you saw some vacuous criticism about the fact that I didn’t say “Novak Slam!” ten times in my article about his win at the FO.
First of all, this is an on-going blog that writes about ATP tennis weekly, hopefully daily 😉 so we saw this fourth straight major coming from miles away. He should have won the French (probably the Calendar Slam for that matter) last year. Didn’t happen. He was able to convert the elusive 2016 FO following his 6th AO and here we are. And sure this is tennis history.
What was more interesting for me was the lack of success he’d had at the French. This speaks to his nerves (perhaps) and Nadal’s dominance (as well as a stronger field, too). The clay is Djokovic’s best surface; this should be argued without much resistance. I lobbed a few FO numbers in that article to show how competitive he’s been, yet unsuccessful at the same time. His SF loss to Federer in 2011 was a huge upset as was his 2013 SF loss to Nadal. Those are SFs. He’s had much opportunity in several finals, as well.
He has won the last four majors. This is incredible, no doubt. He joins Laver as a player to hold all four slams at the same time, or hold all four majors at once, or. . .however you want to say it.
But this speaks to another reason as to why I probably didn’t get all hot and bothered about his winning the French. What would be the difference between what he’s accomplished in the last four majors and if he’d won the French last year along with his victories at the 2015 season’s other three? Do you get where I’m going? What would be the difference between winning the Calendar Slam vs. the Novak Slam?
If you look back at Serena’s or even Tiger Woods’ careers, you will see a lot of numbers, glowing descriptions of their dominance, etc. They are considered, by many, the greatest their particular sports have ever seen.
A subordinate point of those biographies is that each won what the media called the Serena Slam (twice) and the Tiger Slam. But those are, believe it or not, seen subordinate to many of their other accomplishments.
Steffi Graf, on the other hand, is recognized almost first and foremost as a winner of the Golden Slam, which we know is the Calendar Slam that includes the Olympic gold in tennis. The Calendar slam is more esteemed for obvious reasons. Is this to belittle Novak’s accomplishment of winning the last four slams? Not at all. But there is a reason for the season.
Do you want to know what’s more impressive than Novak winning the last four, for me? He has won 6 of the last 8. Majors. More extended dominance.
He’s utterly dominant and has been for a while. In probably my most popular article, that I wrote after 2015 WB, I said welcome to the Djokovic Era (and that statement was tardy). Despite Roger being the only guy who seemed like he might be able to muster any sort of challenge toward the Serb, this was, in my eyes, already Novak’s era. To be fair, the WB and USO finals v Federer were not very close, at all.
Coincidentally, the win at the 2016 FO was another brick in the wall that he’s been building for a while. His loss to Stan at FO 2015, as I lamented at the time, was potentially quite costly. Turned out it only cost him the Calendar Slam, which is, actually, a big deal. It’s a bigger deal, to be sure, than the Novak Slam. But, in retrospect, it was only a hiccup in his dominance. To be fair, again, the win at the 2016 FO does, in fact, solidify his autocracy.
The other element to all of this that certainly has an effect on me as a tennis fan and writer is that there really isn’t much (HASN’T been much) drama in the events of his dominance of 2014-2016. I am not a fanboy. I look at this as objectively as I can. If/when he completes the Calendar Slam in 2016 (perhaps even the Golden version), then we can go big. Despite the lack of resistance that he faces.
We talked about his draw at RG. This is only a microcosm of the Djokovic era.
The only real tour rival Novak has is Andy, who was born a week before the Serb. As I have said, and this is anything but newsy insight, Andy and Novak play very similar games, but Novak is simply a much better player, does almost everything on a much higher level than the Scot, including, perhaps most importantly, Novak’s stellar mental fortitude.
That’s all there is on the ATP and really has been for over a few years. Roger’s surge last year was incredible, but he’s on fumes (on his farewell tour, which we’ve been talking about here for over a year). Nadal’s 2014 FO was a last hurrah, or so it seems.
One who follows/includes some history in his/her analysis has to confront the lost generation of this great sport of men’s professional tennis. Although this is just one factor in the health of the tour, it’s a doozy. In terms of having younger rivals coming-up, something Federer, Nadal (every tennis champ) had, Novak has the following scenario: of players younger than Novak, only Del Po and Cilic have a major, one apiece; but even more telling is that those two men have only been to ONE major final. Del Po’s story is sad and Cilic’s one-hit wonder is drenched in suspicion. In other words, they have been non-factors, really.
That’s the good news of the aspiring younger generation that should be challenging Djokovic as he makes history in the sport. According to one writer, “Men born in 1989 or later have not won a single title of note. No major, no Masters, no tour final. The entire generation of men younger than Djokovic who should be leading the sport hasn’t lifted a single significant trophy.”
While we have been enjoying this incredible golden age of tennis, lavishing the Big 4 with historical descriptions, the field beneath them, the future of the game, has been circling the proverbial toilet.
Indeed, the tour’s compensation structure and players’ resources are factors as well in this diminishing health of the sport. But, my God, the game can’t find a mature Thiem or Kyrgios soon enough. And you and I both know how far distant is their or other’s ascensions to competitive legitimacy.
All this to say, the Novak Slam! was a long time coming. I am not Serbian, nor am I, again, a Djokovic fanboy. Do I respect his tennis and his character? Read my articles. I greatly admire his classy tennis legacy.
But I prefer massive perspective, thoughtful discourse. There are, as you should see, many reasons I might not have gone berserk when he hoisted is fourth consecutive major trophy.
But I’m following, probably a bit closer than you, and I will record and make commentary on these and many other topics concerning the sport.
I didn’t even plan on writing this article today.
You will love (or hate) my next installment: How Roger Federer Ruined Men’s Tennis.
Speaking of, in his match against young American Taylor Fritz, on the green grass of Stuttgart, he secured a break in the first set, and will be serving 4-3 once the rain delay is lifted.
Is he really, other than Andrew Barron Murray, the only possible challenge to Novak as we grace the European grass? Heaven, help us.
Cheerio, tennis fans!