London: Novak Djokovic has highlighted this year’s clay court season on the ATP World Tour with a series of stunning achievements that have elevated him to the very top echelon of the game.
The biggest achievement in a season of stellar performances by the 29-year-old Serbian superstar was to claim the Roland Garros title, the one Grand Slam crown that had eluded him. In doing so he became just the third player in the history of tennis to hold all four Grand Slam trophies at the same time.
Djokovic joined Australian Rod Laver and American Don Budge as the only players to post four consecutive wins at the Slams, although Djokovic was unique in that he didn’t win them all in a calendar year. The World No. 1 began his run at Wimbledon last year and still has a chance to add the calendar year Grand Slam to his illustrious career should he win at Wimbledon and the US Open later this season. What an utterly remarkable achievement that would be!
His win in Paris brought up his 65th career title and moved him to equal fourth on the list of Grand Slam winners with a total of 12 singles victories.
During the clay swing Djokovic became the first player in ATP World Tour history to pass the $100 million (Dh 367 million) mark in career prize money earnings, and he also became the first player to qualify for the prestigious season ending Barclays ATP World Finals to be held from November 13 to 20 at the O2 Arena in London.
In addition, he reinforced his position on the top of the ladder at Masters 1000 titles, with his personal tally rising to a record 29 after his win at the Mutua Madrid Masters in Spain. All in all a remarkable run of achievements during the clay court swing.
Mentions also for a resurgent Rafael Nadal who returned to form to claim two clay court titles with victories at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters and then following up in Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray triumphed at the BNL Internazionali d’Italia in Rome, and big-hitting Stan Wawrinka captured the Geneva Open on home soil.
Dominic Thiem delivered on his great promise with a victory at the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur, the 22-year-old adding that title to earlier season successes at Acapulco and Buenos Aires. He then followed up with his first ever Grand Slam semi-final in Paris and not surprisingly he has now broken into the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time, becoming the youngest player in that elite group.
The fans obviously enjoyed the clay swing with record attendances at Monte Carlo (133,282), Rome (196,697) and Madrid (244,660).
With the dust now settled on the clay court swing for another season, the attention of the tennis world focuses on the extended grass court swing.
The three-week gap allows players and fans time to adjust from the punishing rallies on the clay to the faster paced cut and thrust game on grass and the season promises a lot of intrigue.
The injured Roger Federer returns to action playing in both the MercedesCup in Stuttgart and the Gerry Weber Open in Halle as he eyes another tilt at Wimbledon. Djokovic will try and keep alive his hopes of a successful defence of his title at the All England Club and in the process take a step closer to a calendar year Grand Slam.
Murray, after a strong clay court season, will enjoy getting back on the grass in front of his legion of home fans at the Aegon Championships in London. After his victory in Rome and reaching the final in Paris, the World No. 2 is in good form heading in.
Next year’s grass swing will see a couple of recently announced changes with the Nottingham 250 event moving back to Eastbourne and a new event in Antalya, Turkey, joining the swing for the first time.
But for now it’s all eyes on this year’s grass court swing, a short but exciting season that regularly produces some of the most dramatic matches of the year.
-Chris Kermode is Executive Chairman and President of ATP