The end of the year is near, hence the dawn of a new calendar that comes with another year of old traditions, the possibility of new ones, new or some of those repeated expectations, hopes and the manifestation of dreams. All of these things and more come when we turn from December to January. In tennis, we anticipate the players getting ready for some smaller tournaments in order for them to find some form before the year’s first major championship.
Before we talk about 2017, new coaching announcements, player health, etc., let’s explore briefly what happened at the end of 2016, especially with regards to the collapse of Djokovic.
Tennis is a very historical game, meaning the past is always ringing in our ears as we watch the battles play-out on the various courts, some of which have seen great tennis matches between historically great players for years and years. You know exactly what I’m talking about, especially since the start of the 21st century (only about 15-16 years ago) and the dawn of an era that has seen, for many, some of the greatest players of all time duke it out across several courts through out several calendars.
What happened at the end of 2016 cost Novak Djokovic historically, if you ask me.
I went over this a bit already, but Djokovic had a lot on the line there at the WTF. Gaining the #1 ranking in Paris by beating Isner in the final was a bit of an interim investiture for Murray. Murray, Djokovic and the rest of the tennis audience new Andy needed to certify the coronation by winning the WTF where Djokovic would be playing and able to defend his own claim at #1.
Here’s actually what I wrote back on November 1, in a post titled “Djokovic’s Run:”
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.
If we’re talking about history, which we often are in tennis, this end of 2016 was pretty costly for the legacy of Djokovic. The numbers are very relevant in this glorious sport of ours. Djokovic has worked his way into the big-time #1 tennis discussion, which included winning another WTF, which would have been his 6th, tying him with Federer for the most of those prestigious year-end championships, as well (while also reclaiming #1 for the year-end #1 ranking).
Folks, there was a lot on the line in London. Those are the facts.
This clarification of London I want to stand alone and a part from all of the coaching and life drama of Djokovic. No one really nows how 2017 will play-out, whether he will miss Becker, whether his marriage is tense and distracting to his game, or whether some guy named Pepe will help or hurt his tennis.
We don’t know what will happen as the Serb marches towards his 30th birthday, needing to regain the edge he’s had over Murray on the court and in the rankings.
But we do know that the losses on the backside of 2016, especially his loss to Murray at the WTF, have been very costly to Djokovic.
Some Djokovic fans and historians/tennis fans that love what Novak has accomplished so far, especially through to the 2016 French Open, want to say that Djokovic vaulted into the GOAT debate. Tough not to consider his accolades, especially what he was able to do at the French back in May, accomplish the Novak Slam where he, upon winning his first FO, was in possession then of all four majors. Truly remarkable. Along with his other tremendous tennis accomplishments, he is in the GOAT debate. I am certainly not going to say he is not.
Be that as it may, the end of 2016 was quite costly. There is no way around that. This GOAT discussion gets murky very quickly given all of these greats’ cases, all of the tremendous runs they went on, the great matches, etc. In the end, the numbers help quantify and qualify. The eye-test, for those of us who have watched a lot of tennis, works too.
But there are very real numbers and subsequent standards that formulate tennis greatness.
Consequently, Novak’s collapse at the end of 2016 could have massive repercussions on his discussion. This just can not be denied. Winning the WTF, regaining #1 and winning his 6th WTF would have been HUUUUUGE. This wasn’t the case and I don’t hear anyone talking about how big of a loss that was.
People prefer to talk about Becker and Pepe and Marián and Jelena. And others are reminding us of the greatness of that Novak Slam, which I agree is a monster achievement.
But. . . what about The Collapse?