Novak Djokovic will look back on 2019 as another year where he made impressive progress in his bid to become the most successful player of all time.
This year may not have ended perfectly for Novak Djokovic, but he can reflect on 2019 as a season where he moved closer to achieving his biggest target.
The Serbian now has 16 majors, with Federer still on 20 after being unable to add to his tally this year and Nadal now just one short of that record mark with 19.
While Djokovic’s retirement against Stan Wawrinka as he struggled with injury at the US Open along with a defeat to Federer on his way to an early exit at the ATP Finals meant the conclusion to the year was not perfect, he still had a brilliant campaign.
Victory at Wimbledon in an epic final against Federer followed up his crown at the Australian Open to begin the year, making it two straight ATP Tour campaigns winning multiple Slams.
With the battle to come out on top so close between the big three, it may be years before the full significance of that scarcely believable Wimbledon win over Federer, having recovered from being down two championship points, becomes clear in the bigger picture.
A different result and Federer would be sitting on 21 to Djokovic’s 15 and the Serbian’s chances would be looking very different.
Instead, Djokovic has won eight of his last nine Grand Slam finals, taking full advantage of the opportunities when they arrive and in the process denying the Federer, now his victim in three Wimbledon finals, the chance to move further ahead.
While Djokovic has made it clear he is prioritising majors at this stage of his career, the year also saw him collect two more Masters 1000 crowns in Madrid and Paris, posting an overall match record of 57-11.
Missing out on the year-end number one to Rafael Nadal, who is enjoying a remarkable late-career run, was a minor blow, but other chances will come to match Pete Sampras’ record of finishing the year on top six times.
That Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have all been year-end number one five times each is another intriguing sub-plot in the debates and comparisons that will rage on long after their playing days are at an end.
The youngest of the big three, Djokovic has time on his side for now in his Grand Slam goal. That is even though he knows the younger generation like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Denis Shapovalov are likely to break their stranglehold in the majors at some stage.
With Federer and Nadal likely in their last couple of years on Tour, Djokovic will bid to continue cutting the gap over that period to ensure he is in striking distance by the time they depart the stage, at which point he will be left as the sole target for the younger stars to challenge.
If he can win another two majors in 2020, that would be meeting that objective and represent another key step towards the record.
With Nadal still dominant at the French Open, the other three will be Djokovic’s realistic targets, not least the Australian Open, which starts next month.
If Federer is synonymous with Wimbledon like Nadal at Roland Garros, then Melbourne is the Serbian’s tournament.
Djokovic has won the event seven times, an all-time record, and will go into the event as favourite, albeit closely pursued by the red-hot Nadal.
Victory there would be another step towards surpassing his great rivals as part of a record pursuit that remains firmly in his sights.
For a player who has never quite got the same credit for his stunning successes as Federer and Nadal, it is an accomplishment that would mean everything for Novak Djokovic.