Novak Djokovic: What His Wimbledon Defeat Means for His Legacy

Matthew Dicker@@MattDickerContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia shows his dejection as he salutes the crowd after losing his Gentlemen's Singles semi final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

"Djokovic seemed to lack his usual mojo and positive body language" said the New York Times. "Novak Djokovic clearly off his game" said ESPN.

The consensus was clear: while Roger Federer played masterfully in his semifinal upset win over Novak Djokovic, Djokovic blew an opportunity to add to his Grand Slam win count and further cement his legacy as one of the all time greats.

Only 25 years old, Djokovic's list of accomplishments would already earn him a spot in the Tennis Hall of Fame. He has won five Grand Slam tournaments, took home a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, won five Masters titles in a single season, and has the third longest win streak ever at 43 matches. He is a hero in his native country of Serbia, and is the only player who has been able to put a significant dent on Federer and Rafael Nadal's control of the men's game since 2003.

Yet as great as Djokovic has been in his young career, he will need to do more if he is to rank alongside his rivals Federer and Nadal as one of the true greatest to ever play the sport. Nadal is less than a year older than Djokovic, yet he has already won 11 Grand Slam titles, six more than Djokovic. Nadal is tied for fourth with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg in all time in Grand Slam championships, while Djokovic is tied for 27th on the list with Tony Trabert and Frank Sedgman.

Djokovic's biggest problem has been his consistency. After winning the Australian Open in 2008 and reaching the French Open semifinals—his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinals—he lost in the second round at Wimbledon, was eliminated in the second round of the doubles tournament in the Olympics despite his second seed, and lost in the semifinals of the US Open. He didn't win another Grand Slam title for three years.

Though Djokovic still played outstanding tennis during this time and won many tournaments, Grand Slams are what players are best remembered for, and between Djojkovic's first and second Slam titles, Nadal added six Slam titles to his resume.  

Djokovic's 2011 season was simply spectacular. He won three Grand Slam titles, won 10 tournaments, and earned the No.1 ranking. For most of the year he seemed unbeatable, and many experts, including Pete Sampras and Boris Becker, said it was one of the greatest seasons in the history of tennis. But despite winning the 2012 Australian Open, his level of play in 2012 has not matched his play in the previous year.

Djokovic enters every major tournament knowing that he will likely face either Nadal or Federer, and perhaps both. Nadal is going to continue to be a threat to win tournaments for as long as Djokovic plays, which means that Djokovic must seize every possible opportunity to win tournaments when he can. With Nadal's early exit, this year's Wimbledon was a prime opportunity to add another Grand Slam title to his count, and Djokovic failed to capitalize.

Though there is no shame in losing to Federer—who isperhaps the greatest to ever play the game—Djokovic simply can't afford to show up to Wimbledon without his "mojo."

If he maintains his current pace of an average of one Slam per season since 2008, Djokovic will have won 10 Slams by the time he reaches Federer's present age. This would tie him for seventh all-time with Bill Tilden, and clearly establish him as one of the very best to ever play.

But as long as Federer and Nadal continue to win, Djokovic cannot afford to play anything but his very best tennis if he wants to be part of the sport's pantheon.