Yes, Novak Djokovic just wrapped up one of the greatest seasons in tennis history. There’s no denying that. It deserves its place among the best. But it’s not the best nor do I think it’s even his best. That’s right.
I personally think Djokovic had an even stronger in 2011 when he also won three Grand Slams and finished No. 1. The big different? Yup, the competition. Or in the case of this year, the lack thereof.
In my mind, this year and the last few years have been a step backward in the quality men’s tennis. Of course that’s coming off a high from around 2009-2011. I think the peak level of play was 3-4 years ago when Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and even Andy Murray were all at a very high level, all right in the mix for Slams.
At present, Murray’s still good, Federer is playing well, but Nadal is the real laggard. He’s been a shell of his former self as we know. And I just think the level of competition in general has declined of late.
that said, among the bigger names, let’s compare who’s better now vs 2011:
2 Andy Murray – EVEN
I don’t see much change in Murray. I think he has also benefited from the decline of Nadal and Federer.
3 Roger Federer – 2011
He’s 34 now, he was better in 2011 when he was 30. I know he had a great year in 2015 but I also feel like he benefited from a weak field. Yet he still was able to beat Djokovic three times.
4 Rafael Nadal – 2011
Nadal was a beast in 2010/2011. Almost unbeatable. Now when he plays Djokovic it’s an utter mismatch.
I won’t go down the ranking list. Point is, many top players had a “down” year in 2015. But to me the key guys are Federer and Nadal who I think we better back then, especially Nadal. And with them in decline it naturally is going to help those around them. Nadal not winning the French leaves the door open for someone else, and that someone else was Wawrinka.
Coincidence that Djokovic didn’t start winning Wimbledon until Federer was almost 30?
Speaking of Federer, in 2011 Djokovic went 4-1 (80%) against the Swiss. This year he was 5-3 against Roger (62.5%). Well if Djokovic is better now, then Federer to have gotten three wins at his age must be…well, ya know.
And like I said, while many at the top didn’t have their best season, some actually did.
Three I’d like to mention are the big guys, John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson. I call them “The Constants”. No matter what coaching they get, alleged improvements they make, what racquets they use, unless they are injured, they are who they are: Big servers. Their games stay the same. Injury aside, what changes is the opposition. And this past year all three had ranking-wise one of their best, if not their best, season.
Isner and Anderson both finished at year-end highs No. 11 and 12. Karlovic at age 36 – THIRTY SIX! – finished No. 23. (In 2011, Isner was 18, Anderson 32 and Karlovic finished 56.)
So why the big jumps? Is it really because these guys are so much better tactically? Or is because those around them just aren’t that good. I’ll argue the latter.
Now, back to 2011, look how strong Nadal was. He was going for his Rafa slam at the 2011 Australian. He then won the French and reached finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Federer may not have been in his prime, but imagine having to deal with both Nadal and Djokovic at their peaks. Roger still authored a 17-match win streak following his 5-set loss to Novak in the US Open semifinals. And he never lost to anyone outside the Top 20 all year. This year he had three such losses.
Let’s talk about Murray. Andy actually won Grand Slam matches in 2011 than he did in 2015 (21 to 19). And he finished 2011 winning 81% of his matches to his 2015 level of 83%. So not much difference. He was just as good of a player back then.
We’ve talked so much about guys being older. And that’s true. The Top 10, Top 100 are probably the oldest they’ve ever been. Why? As Rafa said, it’s not because of the physicality per se, it’s because the young guys just aren’t that good.
What happened to Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, David Goffin, Jerzy Janowicz, Pablo Carreno Busta, Thiemo de Bakker, Ernests Gulbis, Tomaz Bellucci and Sam Querrey who were at one point suppose to contend with the very best, but it hasn’t quite happened that way. Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic did break through and Raonic has been dealing with injuries, but they’ve been the exception. And Stan Wawrinka has become a threat – in part due to the decline of Federer/Nadal.
Meanwhile, the younger generation like Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jack Sock and Nick Kyrgios are all rising quickly.
Again why? Because the young guys are better than these middle-tier, B-level 30-70 ranked guys. And also now when facing a Roger or Rafa, there’s a chance to win (and Kyrgios took advantage last year against Rafa and then beat Roger this year). Four, five years ago there wasn’t that chance.
Back in 2011, Djokovic was faced with a peak Nadal (beat Nadal six out of six times!), a worthy – not aging per se – Federer and a competent Murray. And I still believe that had Fabio Fognini not withdrawn from that French Open quarterfinal, Novak would have won the French that year. He was playing that good. And yes, better than today (I think Novak 2011 beats Novak 2015. FWIW, Novak has better serve numbers this year but he had better return numbers in 2011).
Now before to blast me for being pro Federer (or simply anti-Novak), I was arguably even more critical of Roger’s peak years during 2004-2007. Coincidence that the last time Federer won three Slams in a single season was 2007, the year before Djokovic and Murray joined the big picture? Well, duh!
So again, my theory here is based on the eye test. And those chasing Novak right now are not as good as they were in 2011. That simple. So I say 2011 was a better, greater year for Novak than 2015.
The tl;dr version:
* Novak had a great year, but not as great as 2011. Why? Because this year Nadal was crap, Federer is 34, Murray is Murray, Stan has or had girl problems and no one else is really worth a damn. Look what he had to deal with in 2011.
* The tour overall is weak right now. For proof, we suddenly see all these teens breaking through and the big men “Constants” reaching career highs.
* OK, if Fognini wins a Slam next year then you’ll finally agree it’s week, right?
* I’m not saying Novak’s a bad fella, I’m saying Novak of 2011 would beat Novak 2015.
* It’s the off season so I have to talk about something so let’s have some fun!
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