Is Novak Djokovic The Real #1?

by Charles Friesen (Contributor)

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal each entered the US Open with one slam title this year. A victory by any one of them would make a strong argument for being #1 for the year. Djokovic nailed the title and it was enough to move him from #6 to #3 in the rankings. It also moved him to #2 in the yearly race. But is his record enough to consider him the year’s #1?

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Do Slams Tell The Whole Story?

How significant are the ITF-controlled slams in the yearly accounting? Martina Navratilova has spoken out claiming she feels they’ve gotten too important compared to the WTA- and ATP-controlled tours that consist of the all the other tournaments at the 250 point level or higher. In her era players often skipped the slams for more lucrative tournaments.

But that was then. Now the slams have assigned point values for the world rankings that have been relatively stable for the last 29 years. This year Federer has won 14 matches at the slams (missing Roland Garros) while Djokovic and Nadal have each won 21. But while Djokovic started the year slowly, recovering from an elbow injury, he has been gaining momentum steadily. Novak has accumulated 4540 ranking points at the slams this year, and Rafa has an impressive, but smaller, 3800 points. So there’s no question Djokovic is the winner from the slam perspective.

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Nadal Has Lost 1 Match Outside of Slams

Outside of the slams, Nadal has lost only once in the five tournaments he’s played. Djokovic had a rough start and at one point leading up to Rome, he lost six of nine matches. But since then he’s 26-4. In the yearly race he trails Nadal by 1045 ranking points, however, I have a feeling he will thrive in the home-stretch and is likely to finish #1 by year’s end. Even if he doesn’t, most pundits will probably regard him as #1 for 2018 based on his two slam trophies.

A yearend #1 finish would be Novak’s fifth, tying him with Federer for second place in the Open era (since 1968), one behind Sampras who had six year-end #1’s. (Connors was ranked yearend #1 by the ATP computer for five years from 1974-78 before the algorithm was as refined as it is now, and most experts consider him #1 for only two of those years).

Djokovic ties Sampras with 14 slam titles and given his current form I expect he will add significantly to his haul. Steve Tignor at Tennis magazine has predicted that Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer will each end up with 20 slam titles. Currently, Nadal has 17 and Federer 20.

 

Is Djokovic Fedal’s Kryptonite?

When Djokovic (and Murray) went AWOL for a year and a half, Nadal and Federer scooped up three slams each. It was largely Djokovic who stopped their ascendance when he began dominating in 2011. In the five years from 2012-2016, Fedal claimed five slams, averaging only one per year between them, until Djokovic struggled in 2017. Now that he’s back, can we expect him to suppress Federer and Nadal the way he did in the past?

Djokovic has a winning record against Federer 24-22 and against Nadal 27-25: a unique and significant achievement. He’s still a little behind in the slam count. But give him a few years, at the rate he’s going he may one day be considered the GOAT.

 

  • Charles Friesen brings THE SLICE from Vancouver, Canada.

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