Wait Until the Year Ends or Did 2011 End in NY?
There may be wisdom in letting the rest of 2011 play out before selecting Novak Djokovic’s awesome season as the best ever single season. Novak won the season ending championship in 2008 and adding a second season ending title would be a significant achievement. Still, Novak’s 2011 has featured 3 Grand Slam titles with general domination over his peers at the top of the ranking list. Novak has also won a record 5 Masters 1000/Masters Series/Super 9 events* with 2 more of these events remaining on the calendar. This grouping of 9 more important events has only existed since 1990, but it is still significant that he has set this record so early in the season.
What About 2006?
Roger Federer did have a lower winning percentage in 2006 than Novak’s in 2011. However, Roger reached all 4 Grand Slam finals and was 2 sets removed from a calendar Grand Slam. Roger won 4 Masters 1000 (Masters Series) events and won the season ending Masters Cup. To be sure, reaching all 4 slam finals is better than not doing so. I think winning 4 Masters 1000 point events and the Masters Cup/World Tour Finals is better than winning 5 Masters 1000 events. Novak dominated his top competition more in 2011 than Roger did in 2006. Roger won 12 titles in 2006 and to this point Novak has 10 titles. My prudential judgment is that if Novak wins the season ending title or sweeps some other events remaining on the calendar he can pass what Roger achieved in 2006, but that Novak has not quite surpassed Roger’s 2006.
2 of 3 Losses Have Been Retirements
In one sense, Novak Djokovic only losing 1 match point all season is in his favor despite 3 losses showing up on his ledger. In another sense, losing 2 matches based on an inability to physically finish is a strike against having the greatest year ever. It is not as if the final of Cincinnati and a pivotal Davis Cup match were matches of low importance. Novak could have won 6 out of 7 Masters 1000 events had he won Cincinnati. He could have swept the 4 North American Masters 1000 events for the first time ever. He could have swept the 6 most important outdoor hard court events in a single year for the first time ever. Granted had he won Cincinnati, maybe his shoulder gives out in New York.
The match retirement versus Juan Martin del Potro in Davis Cup is more problematic. The grueling match with Nadal undoubtedly makes this mid-match retirement quite understandable. Still, Davis Cup success in 2010 is what propelled Novak in early 2011. This was not a meaningless retirement. The fact that Nadal and Federer completed 2 singles matches after the US Open ended also sends a cautionary note.
Titles in 2012 > Praise from ‘Experts’ in 2011
That US Open final was brutal on both players. Nadal looked gassed at the end of the second set and somehow dug deep enough to come back from a break down 3 different times in the 3rd set. Nadal had nothing left to give in the 4th set. Novak was injured at some point in the 3rd set. Credit Novak for finishing, but the brand of tennis they played was both electric and career shortening. If I were part of Djokovic’s team, I might simply shut things down for 2011 with the possible exception of London. Novak logged a lot of miles in 2011. What good is the greatest year ever, if Novak’s 2012 is hampered by a bad back, shoulder or hip? The title of greatest __________ ever is something people create and debate. No one will debate who won the 2012 Australian Open once it is in the books. I think Novak would be better served to follow sound medical advice (whatever it may be) regarding the remainder of 2011 so that he can parlay as much momentum and good health as possible into 2012.
* – Did the ATP ever consider that constantly changing the name of this series of tournaments hurts continuity. I half expect the name Masters 1000 to be replaced by Masters Pi= 3.14 in the near future.