All of the discussion right now is on the impressive run of one Andrew Barron Murray. Undoubtedly, he is having a fantastic year, including having collected his sixth ATP title of the year last week in Vienna. His 2016 achievements include, of course, an Olympic gold medal, so the Brit has indeed been on a big run, looking to cap the year by catching #1 Novak Djokovic in the world rankings. This is already quite a career defining year with his 2nd Wimbledon, six tournament wins in all, an Oly gold, but to catch and surpass Novak and become world #1 by year-end would be a monster accomplishment.
But we seem to be overlooking Nole a bit here. First of all, he’s had an amazing 2016. He won the first two majors (his 8th AO and 1st FO), completing the Nole Slam, and becoming the first man in a long time to hold all four major titles. He won another IW/MI double (his third straight, fourth overall), won Madrid, and seemed to stall his summer decline by winning Toronto. So, despite Andy’s great year, Novak has had perhaps an even better year, really. Tough to argue if you put them side-by-side.
What’s really given Andy the ability to shrink Novak’s world ranking’s lead is Novak’s absence from the tour, his inability to defend and/or accumulate points, his inability to stop Murray himself.
And yet there’s another run we should be talking about: Novak’s run at #1. How will Novak be remembered at the top, finally fulfilling his destiny by becoming that next Great Number One, in the mode of Federer and Sampras?
What I was trying to say after the USO concerned a bit of a misperception about this “destiny,” that this is now Novak’s time to shine. He’s been shining is how my argument went. He’s been at and around the top for years now, grinding it out against some of the stiffest competition the tour has ever seen. So for tennis fans to assume that he’s now completely clear of Federer (35) and Nadal (30 and completely broken) and going to reel-off another 2-3 years of winning majors seems, to me, overly optimistic or pretty ignorant (meaning ignoring the evidence). Tennis fans, Novak is perhaps not just burned-out on his 2015-16 run, on his Nole Slam summit. As my argument went, here comes Andy, not just here as in 2016, but in 2017; and Novak, a guy who has waged all-time great physical back-court clashes with some of the greats for years turns 30 in May. Folks, the Serb may be getting oh so very close to that point where Pete said “good-bye” and Roger has said “well, hello, I’m still here.” This, I would argue, is Novak’s last stand (the beginning of this chapter coming a bit early: at the end of 2016).
Novak is fighting for legacy life in Paris this week and in November at the WTF. I like his chances because I trust his pedigree. But if he falls early in Paris, look out. Then there’s a knock at the door and it’s Tom Petty singing “Free Fallin.”
Djokovic is playing to maintain his company with some all-time greats and even attempt to join bigger company in the record books. We’re talking about, for starters, weeks spent at #1, a true greatness metric. He and his fans, at least before his burn-out that included a reassessment of tennis priorities such as winning titles and being #1, had to be eyeing some history as he seemed to be without peer on tour, with a chance to challenge Federer’s total weeks at #1. Currently, Novak is fifth at 223 weeks at #1, behind Conners (268 weeks), Lendl (270), Sampras (286) and Federer (302). Roger’s 237 consecutive weeks at #1 is well ahead of Connors, who’s 2nd at 160. Novak is 4th on that list at 122 weeks with Lendl in 3rd at 157.
What makes this fight to the finish in 2016 very interesting is the record for year’s-end #1, the player who stands at the top of the tour rankings at the conclusion of each season. This is another huge greatness metric. Sampras has 6 year-ends at #1, Roger and Connors are at 5, and Djokovic is with Lendl and McEnroe at 4. So by holding-off Murray here at the end of 2016, Novak will tie Federer and Connors at 5. This has to be on Novak’s mind.
The point is that despite all of the talk of Murray’s 2016 run, it’s Novak’s run-away train that is of most recent and historical interest, one that was steaming along back in May and June but has potentially come off the tracks. If he can salvage 2016, finish at #1, and win the WTF, this would be, in our view, a huge save for the Serb. It almost seems only right that he get that year-end #1 to give him 5 all-time, tie Roger, and even go-on to tie Roger’s 6 WTFs and permit him to reach the short off-season with a massive bottle of satisfaction to open and savor for himself and his family, friends and fans.
This is what I suspect will happen. The Murray run has been very interesting, but I suspect that 2017 is where Murray really comes to play (I hope, for the sake of the competition up top), from the beginning. He has (as he’s said) Rolland Garros very high on his list of priorities and whatever else the seemingly “younger” Brit and his coach have in store.