After a stellar 2015 tennis season which saw then Number 1 Novak Djokovic win three Gland Slam titles, and 11 titles overall, many had expected him to continue his superb season. And at the start of the year, all signs pointed to this.
Djokovic was at his absolute peak as he dispatched 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open with a brutal 6-1, 6-2 victory. Djokovic’s next tournament was the Australian Open, which he found himself in trouble in the Fourth Round against Gilles Simon; making 100 unforced errors, yet eventually prevailing in four hours and 32 minutes with a scoreline of 6-3, 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. It was smooth sailing after this for the Serbian, who proceeded to drop only one set – against Roger Federer in the Semi-Finals – on his way to the title; a 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Great Britain’s Andy Murray.
After Australia, Djokovic played in the Dubai Duty Free Championships, but retired in the Quarter-Finals citing an eye infection. Next up was the Indian Wells, and Miami double which Djokovic did for an unprecedented third straight time, with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Milos Raonic in Indian Wells, and a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Kei Nishikori in Miami. Next up was the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, where the Serbian was defending champion. After receiving a bye in the First Round, Djokovic came up against hard-hitting Czech Jiri Vesley, who overcame the world Number 1 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, handing Djokovic his earliest loss in three years. The Serbian rebounded from this defeat, however, with a run to the Mutua Madrid Open title, which he defeated Andy Murray in the final 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, Great Britian’s number one, however, would hand the Serbian a loss the week after in the final of the Italian Open, prevailing 6-3, 6-3.
The clay court season was reaching its climax as Roland Garros began, with history on the line for Djokovic, who had a relatively routine route to the final. Awaiting him would be a familiar rival; Andy Murray, who’s clay court prowess had been improving all tournament. Great Britain’s number one took the first set 6-3, but fatigue, and Djokovic’s increasing dominance soon captured the Serbian the final Grand Slam title he sought after. With a scoreline of 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, the world number 1 secured history by being only the 7th man to win the coveted Career Gland Slam, and became only the second man – after Rod Laver – to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
Next up his Wimbledon, and Djokovic, the two time defending champion, remained the hot favourite to claim the prestigious title once more. After easily proceeding through the first two rounds, the Serbian encountered the hard-hitting Sam Querry. The American rained down a barrage of a barrage of big serves and aces, along with his topspin forehand, which caused problems for the world Number 1 who didn’t seem to be his usual self. Rain delayed the conclusion of the match, but the scoreline, at the point, indicated trouble for the Serbian; he was 7-6 6-1 down against the American. The next day, the world Number 1 regrouped to win the third set 6-3; hopes of a fight back were maintained as they headed into a fourth, and then into a tiebreaker. After a short rally down 5-6, the Serbian hit a routine topspin forehand wide, handing victory to the American, who ultimately prevailed 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 3-6 7-6 (7-5).
Attempting to rebound after one of his earliest losses in a Grand Slam, the world Number 1 entered into the Toronto Masters, and after a string of victories, he claimed the title by defeating Kei Nishikori in the final 6–3, 7–5. Next would be the prestigious Summer 2016 Rio Olympics, something which Novak had his eyes set upon. However, in the first round, he would be met by a towering old rival – Juan Martin Del Potro – who was coming back from a wrist injury which kept him sidelined. The Argentinian’s hard-hitting forehand dealt the majority of the damage, breaking down Djokovic’s once impenetrable backhand, and ultimately delivering the 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2) upset. Distraught at this loss, the world Number 1 could be seen visibly upset as he walked off the Rio court, before announcing his withdrawal from the Cincinatti Masters merely a week afterwards, citing a left wrist injury.
The Serbian sensation’s next tournament was that of the US Open, where he was the defending champion. Many concerns arose of the status of his wrist, and if a lack of match play would affect his performance; specifically after Djokovic received a walkover, and two retirements en route to the final. Awaiting in the final was Stan Wawrinka, and his lethal one-handed backhand; Stan had beaten the Serbian on big stages, notably in the Australian Open Quarter-Finals in 2014, and the finals of Roland Garros in 2015, the latter of which was an unbelievable display of the Swiss’ power and skill.
The world Number 1 managed to win the hard-fought first set 7-6 (7-1), before “Stanimal” – Stan’s nickname – was unleashed. A barrage of devastating one-handed backhands, which kept Djokovic guessing, along with an array of crisp volleys, forehands, and serves allowed Wawrinka to capture the second and third sets, 6-4, 7-5. The Serbian called for a medical timeout regarding a foot injury, just as Stan was about to serve. Patrick McEnroe, who was giving a commentary for ESPN, was critical of the move: “A complete abuse of the rules…(It’s) up to the officials to do something about it, but they don’t have the guts.”
Stan’s rhythm wasn’t disrupted, and with his backhand and Djokovic not playing at his best, ultimately claimed the US Open title with a scoreline of 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Once more, the word Number 1 had been beaten, and subsequently withdrew from the China Open – to which he was defending champion. It was now time for the Shanghai Rolex Masters, where the Serbian made the Semi-Finals, before succumbing 6-4 6-4 to Roberto Bautista Agut’s flat, piercing forehand which painted the lines.
Djokovic entered the BNP Paribas Masters, but this time, something else was on the line; the world Number 1 ranking. Andy Murray had been making up ground ever since his loss at Roland Garros, and now stood within 415 points of securing the Serbian’s ranking, who was defending champion at the tournament. Djokovic, however, could secure the Year End Number 1 ranking for the third consecutive time – fifth overall – by winning the title, but Andy Murray must lose before the Semi-Finals. To attain the ranking, Murray would have a similar route; he must make the finals, but Djokovic mustn’t make the Semi-Finals.
The world number 1 achieved a smooth victory against Gilles Muller in the Second Round after receiving the bye in the first. In the Third Round, however, Djokovic lost a set to upcoming sensation Grigor Dimitrov, but eventually overcame the Bulgarian in three sets; 4–6, 6–2, 6–3. Next up, in the Quarter Finals was Marin Cilic, the winner of the 2014 US Open and a man who the Serbian had beaten 14 times. But the Croatian was in top form, after recent victories over Andy Murray in Cincinnati, and Kei Nishikori in Basel. Marin Cilic done the impossible and overturned the match record by scoring a 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) victory over the Serbian, leaving an opportunity for Murray to take the coveted ranking. Murray did just that when Milos Raonic withdrew in the Semi Finals because of injury.
Murray was the new world Number 1, dislodging the Serbian, who hired a Spanish spiritual guru – Pepe Imaz – in order to help him regain his lost dominance.
There would be an opportunity to regain the title in the upcoming World Tour Finals tournament, which Djokovic progressed relatively easily through – the opposite to Murray, who was nearly overcome by Kei Nishikori, and Milos Raonic. Both Murray and Djokovic made it to the finals, with a mouthwatering showdown which would determine who would seize control of the Year End Number 1 ranking. Murray was on top form, showing no signs of fatigue; Djokovic, however, seemed to be in the form that cost him the US Open title. Murray claimed the first set 6-3. In the second, it seemed the Great Britain would wrap this up quickly; securing a double break, leading 5-2. However, Djokovic sprang to life; breaking Murray’s serve, and holding his own, applying pressure to the newly crowned world Number 1.
Two match points came, and were erased by the Serbian who seemed to be regaining control of the match at the last instant. It would be third time lucky for Murray, however, who would finish the year as Year End Number 1 after clinching the coveted World Tour Finals title, denying Djokovic the chance at regaining the ranking, and the chance at his fifth consecutive Year Ending Championships – sixth overall – title.
Djokovic, now world Number 2, has had an impressive year by anyone’s standards, having won two Grand Slam titles; Australian Open, Roland Garros, and 7 titles overall. Yet not by his own; defeats at Wimbledon, US Open, Rio Olympics and the World Tour Finals have put a dampener on another historic year. Aside from this, the Serbian has split from his ‘super-coach’ Boris Becker after three years, and a period which saw Djokovic reach 33 finals in total, winning 25 of these, including six Grand Slams, 14 Masters titles, two World Tour Finals titles, and three 500 series titles, amassing an impressive 25 titles.
Only time will tell if Djokovic will be able to rebound in 2017 after Becker’s departure and his current slump in form, and whether he’ll be able to defend his Australian Open title against new world Number 1 Andy Murray, and ultimately regain the aforementioned ranking.