Are We Entering a Third Phase of Djokovic Domination?

Novak Djokovic at his peak is arguably the most devastating player in the history of the sport. Few names in tennis could live with the Serb at his best, let alone beat him. After reaching the highest of heights in tennis excellence back in early 2016, Novak Djokovic endured a rather tricky spell immediately afterwards–but it looks as though the former world #1 might dominate the sport for a third time in his illustrious career.

Phase 1: 2011-2012

The first phase of Djokovic domination was in 2011, which ignited the tennis world as he bludgeoned past his two greatest rivals to ascent to the #1 spot (the first man not named Federer or Nadal to occupy the top spot since Andy Roddick in 2004). The Serb started the season in white hot form, winning his first forty-one matches of the year before a spell-binding performance from Roger Federer ended his run in the semifinals of the French Open.

In the magical 2011 season, Djokovic claimed the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and five ATP Masters 1000s titles. As well as this, he finished the season as the overwhelming #1 and accumulated an astonishing 70 wins out of 76 matches. His reign of dominance ended just after he captured the 2012 Australian Open. Although the Serb was able to maintain his #1 ranking for the majority of 2012, he was not as destructively dominant as he was in the streak before.
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Phase 2: 2015-2016

The second phase of the Serb’s stranglehold on the game is perhaps more impressive than his first due to the fact it was sustained for roughly a year and a half. In my opinion, his 2015 season is the single greatest season ever from a player on the ATP World Tour. In that momentous year, Djokovic reached all four Grand Slam finals (triumphing at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open), kept his #1 ranking for the entire season, became the first man to win six Masters 1000s events in a single year and finished it off in style by winning his fourth consecutive ATP Finals crown. Not bad.

The first half of 2016 was more of the same as the Serb became only the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time after his historic victory at Roland Garros. His decline commenced immediately after his exploits on the Parisian clay but the former world #1 seems to be recovering rather nicely from this slump.
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Phase 3: 2018?

This season started off in relatively poor fashion for a player of Novak Djokovic’s immense quality. In his first twelve matches of 2018, he won six matches which is not what you expect from an all-time great. A shock quarterfinal loss to the then ranked #72 Marco Cecchinato at Roland Garros created numerous conversations saying that Djokovic is finished. Despite this, the Serb once again bounced back and proved to us why he is one of the greatest players to ever pick up a racket.

On the hallowed lawns of the All England Club, Novak Djokovic lifted his first Grand Slam title for over two years – and his thirteenth overall. The former World #1 quickly created even more history just weeks later in Cincinnati as he became the first player ever to win all four Grand Slams, all nine Masters 1000s titles, and the ATP Finals.

Novak Djokovic’s incredible title haul so far…

  • Australian Open: 6
  • Roland Garros: 1
  • Wimbledon: 4
  • US Open: 2
  • Indian Wells: 5
  • Miami: 6
  • Monte Carlo: 2
  • Madrid: 2
  • Rome: 4
  • Canada: 4
  • Cincinnati: 1
  • Shanghai: 3
  • Paris: 4
  • ATP Finals: 5

What Was the Turning Point?

The Davis Cup final is such a pivotal moment in a player’s life; it could make or break their career. Luckily for Novak Djokovic in 2010, it transformed his good career into a great career as he won his next forty-one matches, wrestling himself into the forefront of tennis. That was the first turning point in his ascent to dominance.

I feel that the Wimbledon 2014 final was the turning point into his second phase of complete dominance. Prior to that final he had lost five of his previous six Grand Slam finals which must have been incredibly tough to deal with mentally. The relentless Serb stood up to the test, won the title and went onto rule the ATP World Tour.

In my opinion, his third round match against Kyle Edmund at this year’s Wimbledon Championships was the obvious turning point. Djokovic demonstrated so much passion and fight in that match when so much was against him. Firstly, he had to weather the Edmund storm, then he had to block out the extremely partisan crowd. If that was not enough, he even lost a point which he won in four different ways but sadly he could not convince the umpire otherwise. Like he always does at his best, Djokovic overcame serious adversity. The rest is history.

Djokovic Traditionally Dominates This Portion of the Season

The scariest aspect of Djokovic being close to his best is that his most successful stretch of the year is still to come. The 13-time Grand Slam champion has reached the US Open final a staggering seven times – more than any other Slam. After New York, he traditionally dominates the Asian swing and indoor season. Three Shanghai titles, four Paris titles and five ATP Finals titles are the kind of impeccable numbers that Djokovic is accumulating for the back end of the season.

Between 2012 and 2015, the Serb only lost three matches post US Open. That is an incredible win-loss record of 75-3, or 96%. Do not be surprised if Djokovic is able to sweep up after the final Grand Slam of the year.

US Open Favourite?

For the first time since Wimbledon 2016, Novak Djokovic is the favourite for a Grand Slam tournament, and he must be loving the target on his back. In his peak years, the 13-time major champion did not fold under the pressure of being a favourite, in fact, he performed better. The 31-year-old also seems like the type of character who wants to constantly battle against adversity. Whether that be a crowd that is strongly against him or a weight of expectation, he usually delivers.

I would say he is the joint favourite with Rafael Nadal, who also claimed a Masters series title in the US Open series. A Djokovic-Nadal final may be on the cards which would seem like a fitting finale to conclude the North American hard court swing, but that is a very long way away. A potential quarterfinal match against Roger Federer has all the makings of an instant classic and there is no guarantee that Djokovic will be victorious in what would be the pair’s forty-seventh meeting.

Can he Finish 2018 as the World #1?

Before the season had begun, I predicted that Novak Djokovic would finish the year at the pinnacle of the ATP Rankings, and it appeared perfectly possible at the time. A rough start to the year then followed and he went win-less in the Sunshine Swing, a period of the calendar he usually dominates in. During the same period I still felt Djokovic would find his best and reach the #1 ranking in 2018.

As it stands, the Serb is in third place on the ATP Race to London, 2,315 points behind the leader, Rafael Nadal. It is still very achievable; however, Nadal will have to dip in form and Djokovic will have to maintain his current level. If you look back to past seasons, this actually does happen quite frequently. The Spaniard and current #1 has never been a winner in Shanghai, Paris, or even the ATP Finals, so the race for #1 is very much on.

Even at 31-years-old, the Serbian gladiator is still writing tennis history and looks on course to find his very best yet again. With the target placed firmly on his back and a successful section of the season to look forward to, we may be entering the third phase of Novak Djokovic domination.