Dubai: Novak Djokovic was looking at a bleak picture early this year when he was not sure if he would be allowed to take part in Australian Open, but his fortunes took a dramatic turn for good and the Serb won in Melbourne, French Open and the US Open and ended the year as world No 1 after winning the ATP Tour Finals.
In the process the 36-year-old obliterated Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros and went on to add his 24th at US Open. Apart from his worry over the participation in Australia and US Open due to his vaccination status, Djokovic, the lone man standing from the Fab Four of Roger Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray, had the next generation breathing down his neck, threatening to unseat him from the top.
But Djokovic has successfully held his ground despite playing only a limited number of tournaments. Will the new generation be able to stop the Serb in the new year? A question that has no clear answer for now.
Daniil Medvedev, the world No 3, who helped his team PBG Eagles to win the second edition of the Meteora World Tennis League at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, said that winning against Djokovic is a big challenge, but will try to achieve it early next year.
“Novak does this almost all the seasons in his career. No matter if it is Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Me, Carlos Alcaraz or Jannick Sinner, he gets lots of wins and he has won many Grand Slams. This year Jannick beat him twice and I beat him in the final in Dubai, but we want to beat him more and create a small doubt in his mind and to achieve more success against him. Right now, that is not the case and we are going to try to do it,” the 27-year-old world No 3 told Gulf News.
While Medvedev defeated him in Dubai, Djokovic eased to a straight-set win over the Russian in the US Open final to clinch his 24th Grand Slam title. Next year, it is going to be different as the younger lot will have an additional rival to compete with in Nadal, who is making a comeback in his final season of his career after a year-long injury.
“With Rafa, I have had less success than Novak. So let’s see in what shape he is in and how he is going to handle. I think it is great for tennis,” he added. “Every season is different, but one thing we are sure is Novak is always somewhere there. So, hopefully, I will try to be part of the top four in the next season,” said Medvedev, who is 3,500 points behind Djokovic.
'One of the best'
“Novak is one of the best players in history and Rafa is also back. There is no plan or nothing. They are the best players of our sport. I don’t know what you can do. Each time I am facing, I am playing better. The last match, at the Paris Masters final, it was very close. Hopefully, I will be a better player and be able to prove it,” Andrey Rublev said.
The world No 5 first met Djokovic in Australia and lost in straight sets, but has been making gradual progress since. In the Wimbledon quarter-finals, the 26-year-old lost in four sets after winning the first and in Paris final the Russian won the first set only to see Djokovic winning the title.
'Beating him is only way'
World No 14 Grigor Dimitrov is more philosophical in his approach to stopping Djokovic.
“Beating him is the only way to stop him, that’s how it is. There are no secrets to it. When we are competing at such high levels, we all know what we are going to do every single time. So it comes down to a few points here and there and there are a few moments throughout the match.
"Then the rest is just mental and physical. At the end of the day, you know that we are able to compete and play to our potential each time we play against each other, that’s the best part of our sport. Hopefully, you get a few more chances to play and see where you are at the moment and see what you can do better,” said the 32-year old Bulgarian, who had faced Djokovic three times this year, including the Australian Open, and lost on all occasions.
“The new generation is coming, but I am not afraid,” the Serb proclaimed at an interview during the Dubai Duty Free Open earlier this year. “When I achieved the world No 1 for the first time in 2011, I had to set up new goals, new dreams. Being No 1 was always the ultimate goal, ultimate achievement in tennis. I tried to stay there as long as I possibly can,” Djokovic said after surpassing Steffi Graf’s record for the highest weeks as world No 1 at 378. The Serb has gone to be the highest ranked player for a record 404 weeks.
“My first priority is to stay healthy and prolong my career as much as I can to play on this highest level and the other priority is to play the best tennis in Grand Slams, trying to win more Grand Slams. Then if No 1 ranking in the world comes as a consequence of good results, I’ll be very happy,” he added.
But thanks to the three Grand Slam titles this year, Djokovic enjoys a 2,390 points difference over No 2 Carlos Alcaraz, who won the Wimbledon after defeating the Serb in the final. World No 1 and Alcaraz have met four times this year and the Serb has won three of those.
“The young guys who are very hungry and very inspired to play their best tennis against me is an additional motivation,” Djokovic said on CBS News programme “60 Minutes”. “I think they kind of awaken a beast in me.”
Who will tame the ‘beast’ in the new year is what we will have to wait and watch.