Novak Djokovic’s 18-0 start to 2020 leaves one question: Where will this season rank in tennis history’s best season of all-time?
Novak Djokovic is rolling into next week’s Western & Southern Open with a perfect 18-0 record so far. He’s collected 2 titles in Australia and Dubai, as well as going 6-0 at the ATP Cup (which Serbia won) to bring his pre-pandemic match record to 18-0. Apart from one exhibition loss in Fast4 format, he’s looked flawless.
His three-month stretch to begin the year is the best start he’s had in his career. In comparison, his 2011 and 2015 records (the two best years of his career so far) were 12-0 (titles in Dubai and Australia) and 13-2 (title in Australia). Both years saw him win 3 Grand Slam, reach at least the semifinals of Roland Garros (2015 finalist), and bring home double-digit titles.
Both of those seasons likely rank inside the top ten of greatest single seasons ever, but where will his 2020 season rank when it’s all said and done?
The biggest factor that needs to be discussed is how the post-shutdown season will affect Djokovic’s titles and match wins. In a normal season, there are 9 Masters 1000 events and 14 ATP 500s. Djokovic entered 6 Masters events in 2011, winning 5. In 2015, he won 6 of the 8 1000 Series tournaments he entered (his only losses came in Cincinnati both years and Montreal in 2015).
This season, there will only be three Masters 1000 events for the entirety of 2020. Those will be Cincinnati, Rome, and the Paris Masters (will be held November 2nd). Given that Djokovic has no chance of reaching the totals of the two aforementioned years, he’ll likely need to win all three events to put this year into consideration as one of the best.
In addition, Djokovic gathered 3 Grand Slam titles in 2011 and 2015. Here in 2020, it’s going to be a much different scenario. To get this season to another level, he has two options:
- Win the final two Grand Slam events to sweep the year
- Win Roland Garros and reach at least the semifinals in New York
Obviously, if he finishes with all three Grand Slam titles, it’ll be considered an incredible year without a doubt. The other scenario will speak to his greatness. Djokovic only has one Roland Slam title and it came in 2016 over Andy Murray; Rafael Nadal didn’t enter the tournament due to injury. Djokovic is 7-17 all-time against Nadal on clay and 1-6 at Roland Garros; his only win came against a hobbled Nadal in the 2015 quarterfinals.
Djokovic also has a disadvantage of not having the extra month of hard court preparation that Nadal will by not playing in the three events held in the US this next month. If the World #1 is able to overcome his lack of clay preparation and defeat the King of Clay in the process, it’ll be a historic achievement that will go a long way in not only cementing this season in the history books but also aiding his GOAT campaign even more.
What will really aid his campaign this year would be an ATP Finals win alongside one of the two Grand Slam/Masters scenarios. Being able to cement his status as the overwhelming best player in the world over some of his biggest competitors will be key this season, given the absence of Wimbledon and the lack of 1000 events.
If all of the pieces fall into place, where would this season stack up?
It’s difficult to add yet another Djokovic season to the top ten but a Grand Slam sweep could do just that. He’s not going to play a full season and will likely end up around the 55-60 win mark by the end of the year. While I personally decide tennis’ greatest seasons by big titles per year and win percentage rather than total wins (see Steffi Graf’s dominance from 1987-1989), I think Djokovic’s year has a shot to be among the best.
It’ll all be decided in the next two months. If he struggled out of the gate and fails to win Western & Southern and the US Open, it could put his year in jeopardy. In that instance, he’d need to win both Rome and Roland Garros to bounce back. If he wins W&S, it’ll be a major sign for a historic finish.