Djokovic Closes in on Greats With Best Season of his Life

Because if there is one downside to Djokovic\'s supre-macy, it is that all his victories tend to feel rather the same.

Published: 23rd November 2015 07:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd November 2015 07:43 AM   |  A+A-


Novak Djokovic of Serbia. |AP

The men's tennis tour is over for -another year, and we all knew who would be the last man standing. Judging by the consistency of -Novak Djokovic's season, Roger -Federer's stubbly beard will have reached Brian Blessed proportions by the time the world No?1 loses a significant match.

The final scores for 2015 are in, and Djokovic's 82-6 win-loss record puts him within touching distance of the best tallies recorded. Only four men have posted better figures for a single year - John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Federer and Bjorn Borg - and surely none was operating in such a power-ful era of talent. Against fellow top?10 players, Djokovic is 31-5 in 2015. No wonder his final pay packet of pounds 12.4?mil-lion is the highest accumulated.

The final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals yesterday brought together the two players who would have done battle here 12 months ago, had Federer's back not forced him out to pull out at the last possible moment. This time, the older man was in the rudest of health, darting around the court in a manner that few 18?year-olds could have equalled. But he still could not -manage to stop Djokovic, whose grip over the whole sport must give Federer flashbacks to his own hegemony in the mid-2000s.

Despite what Federer described as "some crazy points" - in which he reeled off fantasy sequences of overhead flicks, drop volleys and juicy forehand drives - he still -finished comfortably in second place, going down by a 6-3, 6-4 margin. Anyone who has followed the ins and outs of the tennis year will probably be able to fill in the gaps for themselves. Because if there is one downside to Djokovic's supre-macy, it is that all his victories tend to feel rather the same. As Federer put it after winning their pool match on Tuesday: "My game is to mix it up, change up the spins. His game is to press you away."

Tennis is a game of physics and it is Djokovic's ablity to consistently generate power and placement from the back of the court that overwhelms his opponents. Yes, he has improved his net-play. Yes, he has turned himelf into perhaps the most accurate server on the tour. But his game is not about the glory shots. If he was a boxer he would not be a knockout specialist, but one of those elusive technicians who stay just out of range and pick you off with superior hand-speed and technique.

The onus, then, is on his opponent to go for the spectacular. Andy Murray (who is now guaranteed to finish the season ranked No?2 for the first time) and Stan Wawrinka have both managed to conjure up the perfect match against him once this season, while Federer has done so three times.

Yet one suspects that there was also a reason, in each case, why Djokovic was not at his sharpest. In Montreal and Cincinnati, for example, he seemed to be a little rusty after his summer holiday. In the pool stage here, he knew he could afford to drop the middle of his three matches. And so we find ourselves asking: "Which worlds does Djokovic still have to conquer?" The French Open, of course, which continues to evade his grasp despite four or five years of near misses. The Federer tally of 17 grand slams, which looks beatable when you consider that he is still only 28.

However, there is also tennis's global fanbase. The gleefully one-sided crowd here last night suggested that Djokovic is in danger of entering the territory occupied by Sebastian Vettel, Floyd Mayweather and Ivan Lendl: all sporting giants who inspired admiration rather than love.

With no mind-boggling talents coming up through the ranks just now, it is hard to see who is going to end Djokovic's reign - which has lasted on and off since the beginning of the 2011 season. Even if -Rafael Nadal could be seen raising a sceptical eyebrow on this issue on Saturday. "I have been in very good situations a couple of times," Nadal said, "then I get some injuries, things change. It's not easy to stay at that high level four years or five years in a row."

Yet the two men pursue very different methods. In the terminology of tennis's movement gurus, Nadal is a "generator", using the brute strength of local muscle groups to propel the ball and this helps to explain why he has been relatively injury-prone. Djokovic, like Federer, is a "transferrer", whose power flows from his whole body. If he keeps going like this, he could end up transferring the mantle of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) from Federer's shoulders to his own.

Speaking on court after his win last night Djokovic said: "Obviously, I'm very proud, together with my team, for the achievements of the season. It could not have been a better finish. It's been a long season, but the best of my life. I'm -trying to cherish every moment on court where I play at this level."


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