He may be behind in the total Grand Slam title count at the moment, but Serbian sensation Novak Djokovic has been the undisputed No. 1 ATP player of the decade, ahead of his two main rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
2010-19 fast facts
Grand Slam titles: 15
Grand Slam finals: 8
ATP Finals titles: 4
Davis Cup titles: 1
Weeks at No. 1: 275
Champion at all nine Masters 1000 events
Five-time year-end No. 1
Four-time Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year
Little did I know that three years after first watching Novak Djokovic win just three games off Marat Safin in his Grand Slam debut in the opening round at the 2005 Australian Open that he’d be the champion of that very same tournament. And little did I know after Djokovic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2008 Australian Open final that he’d be a 16-time major champion by the end of the 2010s and in a strong position to secure the most Grand Slams out of any man in history in the 2020s.
After Djokovic stormed onto the scene with that aforementioned Australian Open triumph, he struggled with his serve and overall fitness in the ensuing seasons, retiring in the quarter-finals of the 2009 Australian Open against Andy Roddick due to fatigue, while he was outlasted in five sets at the same stage of the 2010 Australian Open by Tsonga, leaving the court at various stages during a night match to be sick. But, that’s when everything changed.
Djokovic stopped working with Todd Martin, who had completely remodelled his serve to disastrous consequences, but more importantly, the Serbian changed his diet, going gluten free and dairy free. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam final since 2008 at the 2010 U.S. Open, but it was his role in leading Serbia to their first ever Davis Cup title at the end of the season that proved the catalyst for his second year of the decade in 2011. Djokovic won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, along with a record five Masters 1000 titles, registering a 70-6 record for the season and ending the year as World No. 1 for the first time. Pete Sampras described Djokovic’s season as the best he’d ever seen, labelling it ‘one of the best achievements in all of sport’, while Nadal – who lost to Djokovic in six finals across three surfaces that year – said it was the highest level of tennis he’d ever witnessed.
The Serbian would help take the sport to unprecedented levels to kick off 2012, with Djokovic successfully defending his Australian Open title in jaw-dropping circumstances, beating Andy Murray in four hours and 50 minutes in the semi-finals before edging Nadal in the longest Grand Slam final in the Open Era, conquering his great rival in five sets in five hours and 53 minutes in a match that finished close to 2.00am local time in Melbourne. It was the type of unforgiving and relentless baseline war of attrition tennis that we’d never seen before in such a high stakes match, and will go down as one of the decade’s most memorable moments.
Ending 2012 with the first of what would be four straight ATP Finals titles in London, Djokovic won his third straight Australian Open title to launch 2013, but he wouldn’t win another major until Wimbledon in 2014 (not that I’m calling that a drought!). But it did pale in comparison to what Djokovic achieved during his career-best 2015 season. It was arguably the greatest season ever compiled in tennis history as Djokovic won a total of 11 titles, registering a 82-6 record as he prevailed at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, ATP Finals, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte-Carlo, Rome, Shanghai and Paris among others. Only Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final stopped Djokovic from completing the Calendar Year Grand Slam and the perfect season of tennis.
Djokovic maintained his irresistable form in the first half of 2016, defending his Australian Open title, becoming the first man to win three consecutive Sunshine Doubles (Indian Wells & Miami in the same season) and completing the ‘Nole Slam’ after winning his first French Open crown by defeating Murray in the final. Djokovic became the eighth player in history to achieve the Career Grand Slam and the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four slams simultaneously – along with becoming the first player to win $100 million in prize money.
However, Djokovic wouldn’t win a slam for over two years after his French Open triumph as he struggled with his motivation, numerous injuries and various changes in his coaching setup. After finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open and ATP Finals to end 2016, Djokovic parted ways with Boris Becker, while after suffering a shock loss in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open to World No. 117 Denis Istomin and going down to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco and Indian Wells, Djokovic split with long-time coach Marian Vajda, fitness specialist Gebhard Phil-Gritsch and physio Miljan Amanović as he cited the need for change. Djokovic announced Andre Agassi as his new coach in May, but was forced to shut down his season in July after retiring against Tomas Berdych in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, revealing he’d been suffering from an elbow injury for the last year-and-a-half.
Things didn’t get any better in the early stages of 2018 as Djokovic lost in straight sets to Hyeon Chung in the fourth round of the Australian Open, with the Serbian then undergoing minor surgery on his troublesome elbow, but upon his return at Indian Wells and Miami he lost to Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire respectively.
Reuniting with Marian Vajda coincided with Djokovic’s return to form (along with his recovery from injury of course), with the Serbian putting together a superb back-half of 2018 as he won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, Cincinnati and Shanghai, along with finishing runner-up at the ATP Finals and Paris Masters, becoming the first player to finish the year as World No. 1 after being ranked outside the top 20 in the same season. Djokovic wasn’t quite as dominant in 2019, but he still managed improve his Grand Slam title count to 16 after winning a record seventh Australian Open with a straight sets win over Nadal and a fifth Wimbledon as he saved two championship points in a thrilling tussle with Federer, prevailing 13-12 in a final set tiebreak. However, a relatively disappointing end to the season saw Nadal overtake him in the final few weeks as the World No. 1.
Nevertheless, there can be no argument that this decade belonged to Djokovic. He compiled arguably two of the greatest seasons of all time in 2011 and 2015 and won 15 of his 16 slams in the last 10 years. Competing alongside the other two best players of all time, Djokovic finished the decade with positive head-to-heads over both Nadal and Federer. It doesn’t get much more dominant than that.