A greatest amongst the greatest: Novak Djokovic

Photo credit: Sky Sports

In this golden age of tennis, with the two greatest tennis players of all time (and their achievements) dominating our information channels, anyone who is not a tennis fan (or even some who may be) could easily fail to know that one of a third tennis super-legend exists in the very present. His name is Novak Djokovic, and with 12 grand slam times - 2 slams shy of Pete Sampras' 14 - he has established himself as the man with the fourth-most grand slam wins. To get a sense of the significance of this, one could consider that with 12 he is way ahead of anyone deemed one of the greatest in the history of the sport - Björn Borg (who has 11), John McEnroe (7) and Andre Agassi(8), to name just a few. Another reason for the lack of attention paid to the significance of Djokovic's achievements, without a doubt, is his relatively normal style of play (aesthetically speaking). Federer's playing style is able to appeal to the eyes with its supreme unearthly grace (one that gave David Foster Wallace a 'religious experience'), and Nadal's does so by dint of its superhuman violent intensity. Now for Djokovic... well... I would bet that someone who hasn't watched tennis wouldn't be able to tell the better out of Djokovic or any smooth-stroking college kid. I too find Djokovic's style boring, but like how Andy Murray is my favorite player in spite of his more dreadful playing style, style is hardly everything (or anything if you may). Hence this article is to bring light to the milestones and significance of each for his story and tennis in general, whose recognition did not fall in step with his achievements.

First ATP Title (2006)

Djokovic stood out at his age. His strength, similar to Roger Federer, was growing up really fast. He has never stopped. Nadal was out of the ordinary, because at the age of 19 he had already showed the tennis world who he was. - Nicolas Massu

In 2016, ALexander Zverev Jr won his first ATP title at the age of 19, and broke into the Top 20. Unfortunately for his legacy, such feat of breaking such searing ranking heights at such a tender age, was beaten to by another teenager 10 years earlier - the very subject of our article, Novak Djokovic. In 2006, at the age of 19, Djokovic won his first ATP title at Amersfoort. The parallels though, are eerily striking - both men broke into the ATP top 20 at the age of 19( they were the two youngest men to do so), and both won their first ATP titles at the same age. The significance of the Djokovic's maiden title for his career notwithstanding - it marking the start of a journey conquest that would eventually garner him 12 grand slam titles, as of today - his win is significant for the tennis world in that it is one of a few breakthroughs the marked the emergence of what we know today as the Big Four. Contemporaneously, similar dark clouds are evolving across the world (and ATP calendar year), threatening the glorious reign of Roger Federer that has been so secure. At a later time in that year, Andy Murray overtook Tim Henman to become the British number 1, when he won the San Jose ATP title and broke into the ATP top 20 for the first time. Also in that year, Rafael Nadal proved the un-provable when he reached the Wimbledon finals that year against Roger Federer, to top off a series wins against the Swiss maestro over the past 2 years (with a win-loss record of 6-1 against the Swiss at that time.) Every new age needs a beginning (regardless of how recognizable such a beginning is, at that time or in hindsight), and 2006 was just such a year. Such cracks in the dominance of Roger Federer may not be perceptible, because we focus the dominance which he still held on to rather securely. But they are after all cracks, and are only observable if we actively scour for them.

First grand slam semi-final and final (2007)

He has so much variety to his game and he moves so well. Djokovic has the brain to explore them and is not afraid to do so - even in the most trying of circumstances.

- John McEnroe

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

If 2006 was the year in which Djokovic shed his adolescent years, 2007 showed what a truly dangerous player Djokovic had become in the mens' game, with massive consequences for the dominance of Federer. Looking back, 2007 must have been a remarkable year for the upstart from Serbia, who although won an ATP title, never reached the semifinal of a Masters tournament or a grand slam. The start of year was began un-remarkably for the young gun, having been sweeped by Roger Federer in straight sets in the Australian Open (although every one else was too). That changed with the Indian Wells masters tournament of that year, the finals of which he reached and lost to (in a match the score of which belies the brutality and class of the players) Rafael Nadal 6-2 7-5. That is really impressive for a 19 year old, you may think. But Djokovic stuns again just a week later. Barely smarting from a glorious loss in the dessert of Nevada, Djokovic won his first ATP 1000 title in Miami, beating former world number 8 Guillermo Cañas in the finals. The win is enormous - i mean such a title (being superseded in importance only by the grand slams) is one exchanged between tennis greats like Agassi, or Sampras, or Federer. With such a win, the time for a grand slam win only needs waiting. Breakthroughs were achieved in the middle of that year, when Djokovic reached the semifinals of both Rolland Garros and Wimbledon, losing to Nadal for both. One can imagine the sense of trepidation Roger Federer must have felt, sensing the ever-increasing encroachment of two young players onto what meant everything to him - the maintenance of his hold on the grand slam trophies.

That trepidation would no doubt have translated into a more intense form of lingering anxiety, when Djokovic shook Federer's world (and also the tennis world, although less strongly) with his win over him in the Montreal masters tournament of that year. It must noted here that in this case once again the parallels with Alexander Zvrev Jr. are striking (brought into clear picture with the embedded videos above), as Zverev beat Federer in the Montreal finals of 10 years later. This remarkable run so far did not stop with the upset, but rowed on into the US open tournament of that year, in which Djokovic plowed his way through to the US open finals, leaving behind notable heavyweight casualties such as Carlos Moya and David Ferrer. Roger Federer managed to stop him this time, but we all know that more grand slam appearances from this Serb upstart would ensue in the years ahead, and the potential for an upsets over Federer on such a level would exponentially increase.

Djokovic's first grand slam (2008)

The king is dead

- Dijana Djokovic

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Controversial as the statement above by Djokovic's mother may be, it is worth pondering upon because it must have captured the sentiments (although in quite an oblique way) which flowed through the tennis world in the wake of Djokovic's upset over Federer in the semifinals of the 2008 Australian Open. Federer was 27, in the very peak of his career and playing prowess, and here comes this 20-year-old youngster who pulled off such unprecedented humiliation over the king. The shivers could be felt when one looks at Federer's grand slam singles record until that match. Federer has failed to reach the finals of any grand slam only twice between the 2004 Australian Open and then. Those two losses were: the 2004 French Open early-round exit to Gustavo Kuerten and the 2005 Australian Open semi-final loss to Marat Safin. And also, both losses did not have much of the shock factor when one considers these mitigating factors: 1) Federer was not in the prime of his game at the time of those losses (he was barely 22 and 23 respectively), 2) both the men who beat Federer were grand slam champions (Kuerten had 3 and Safin had 1), 3) Kuerten and Safin were known for their exceptional talents on the court surfaces on which they upset Federer - Kuerten had 3 Rolland Garros titles to his name at the time of upset while Safin hammered Sampras in the US Open final of 2000 has a 20-year old.

It's unbelievable to beat the No1 player in the world, probably the best this court has seen

- Novak Djokovic

Unbelievable it must have been for Djokovic to pull off such a win, and then attain his first grand slam trophy two days later. With this win, Djokovic proclaimed to the world two things: 1) his slew of grand slam wins is on its way, and 2) he is not merely dangerous, but has a serious chance of beating Federer and Nadal on the grand slam stage. For such this win is deemed by us as one of the most significant milestones in Djokovic's career.

A legendary season (2011)

Djokovic is having the greatest year in the history of our sport

- John McEnroe

If 2008 was a milestone year in Djokovic's career by reason of his first grand slam win, 2011 was the year that established Djokovic as a tennis legend. The statistics are mind-blowing. In that one year, he had a 10-1 record against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; remained undefeated from the start of the tennis year to his semi-final Rolland Garros loss; won 3 out of 4 grand slam tournaments; a record five Masters Series 1000 titles; won seventy matches and lost only six; and last but not least winning a record 12.6 million dollars of prize money in one ATP calendar year. The 3 years that passed by after his 2008 Australian Open way did not single this young one out as a one-slam star, with 2011 he proved himself capable again of attaining that ultimate prize, only that he was better at doing so. Before 2011, he was making dents into the monopoly on grand slam wins by Nadal and Federer; after 2011 he became one of the monopolists. He has since won at least one grand slam title per ATP calendar year upon breaking into this incredibly tight market. What a milestone for Djokovic's career and the history of tennis indeed!

The non-calendar year Grand Slam (2016)

What he’s achieved is phenomenal ... It’s not happened for an extremely long time and it’s going to take an extremely long time for it to happen again... obviously it sucks to lose the match ... I’m proud to have been part of today.

- Andy Murray

It was May 2016, and Djokovic won his first Rolland Garros title. What makes this win so special, besides it being the first time he has ever won at Rolland Garros? Djokovic was already a tennis legend before the Rolland Garros win - he had 11 grand slam titles to his year, had 2 3-grand-slam-wins-in-one-tennis-calendar-year years (2011 and 2015), and had lived 199 weeks of his life as the ATP world number one. A new milestone for Djokovic would be very difficult to pull through, how high can Djokovic fly? Much further, so his Rolland Garros win said. Besides being immensely significant to Djokoivc personally, given how the win finally established himself in a place in the annals of tennis history as someone who has won all grand slam titles at least once, it is hugely significant as a historical breakthrough in the sport. With this win, Djokovic became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slam trophies at once, and the first man to do so on four different surfaces. Also, he became the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win both the Australian Open and Rolland Garros in one calendar year! Do these breakthrough moments blow you away - they certainly did for us and hence it was not missed by us in our compilation of this list of milestones.

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