This has been an “OK” year for former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, now idling in second place.
The lean and lithe Serb began the year winning the 2012 Australian Open in an epic final over then-world No. 2, Rafael Nadal. The two played almost six hours, with Djokovic finally prevailing 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5—ripping off his shirt and screaming at the top of his lungs in release.
At that point it looked like Djokovic might soar again.
After all, the Serb began his miraculous 2011 unbeaten streak at the Australian Open—a run that ended during the French Open semifinals when Djokovic finally lost to Roger Federer.
His 2011 super season faded after Djokovic captured his third Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. The fall indoor season gave the Serb no more wins—even losing two out of three during his round robin competition at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
After this year's win in Melbourne, however, the Serb seemed on his way to repeating his domination over Nadal for the second season in a row.
The win in Melbourne, moreover, was a perfect complement to the Serb’s win over Nadal at the U.S. Open in 2011—the last Slam of the season.
It put Djokovic in line to win a career Grand Slam at the 2012 French Open—the next major tournament on the ATP calendar.
Additionally, a win at the French would have allowed the Serb to be the next man to own all four Grand Slam titles at once—the first since Rod Laver accomplished it in 1969. Plus, winning a calendar year Grand Slam remained on the table.
All of these possibilities were alive as the two champions shuffled off the court in Melbourne holding the top two prized spots on the ATP ranking ladder.
Djokovic would go on to reach the semifinals in Dubai and Indian Wells, losing to Andy Murray and John Isner, respectively, before winning another ATP title in Miami.
But the onset of the clay court season revealed a big dent in the Serbian armor. Djokovic, who managed to defeat Nadal on clay in 2011, could not bring that same confident bravado onto the court in 2012.
Nadal defeated Djokovic at Monte Carlo and Rome before meeting the world No. 1 at the French Open.
Nadal would win his seventh French Open title in 2012, defeating Djokovic in the final 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
The dream of owning four Grand Slam titles at once or winning a career Grand Slam ended in Paris.
Moreover, Djokovic now had to concern himself with holding onto his No. 1 ranking because Federer was closing fast.
When Federer won Wimbledon, dismissing Djokovic in the semifinals, the Swiss took over the No. 1 ranking, pushing the Serb down to No. 2 and Nadal down to No. 3
What came seemingly so quickly faded just as fast under the summer sun of 2012.
After losing the No. 1 ranking, Djokovic lost to Andy Murray during the semifinals of the 2012 Summer Games in London held on the grass courts at Wimbledon.
The Serb won the ATP Masters title in Toronto, Canada but lost in Cincinnati to Federer.
The final blow, however, came at the U.S. Open when Djokovic lost to Andy Murray in the final. It was Murray’s first Grand Slam win and Djokovic’s last big chance to close the gap on Federer still sitting in the No. 1 spot.
Since the U.S. Open concluded, Djokovic has been healing, getting ready for the final push through Asia in 2012.
His campaign to win back the No. 1 ranking begins at the China Open.
Djokovic won the China Open held in Beijing in 2009 and 2010. He is preparing to win it again in 2012.
As he enters Beijing, Djokovic trails Federer by 1,335 points in the ATP rankings. Neither has played on tour since the U.S. Open concluded earlier in September.
Nadal, of course, is out for the duration with no one quite sure when he will return as he allows ample time for his knees to heal.
Andy Murray has edged into third place in Nadal’s absence—possible after each of the top four won a Grand Slam title in 2012. But Murray trails Djokovic by over 2000 points as the players begin the final countdown now that October play is underway.
The main point to consider here, however, is that Djokovic, after fading away once the 2011 U.S. Open concluded, has only 660 points to defend from now until the end of the year. Federer, on the other hand, has 3,000 points on the line.
This gives the Serb more than ample opportunity to move up and past the Swiss, who claimed recently that he is exhausted by the intense summer schedule.
At the end of 2011, Federer won at Basel. Plus, the Swiss claimed the ATP Masters in Paris and he won the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the year. It was a magnificent year-end run, laying the foundation for Federer’s surge in the rankings. This run eventually allowed him regain the No. 1 ranking.
But now the Swiss has to pay the piper by retaining those titles if he wishes to end the year ranked in the top spot.
After the China Open, Djokovic is scheduled to appear at the Shanghai Masters, the Swiss Indoors in Basel followed by the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. He will, of course, finish the year by vying for the championship at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Except for the China Open, Federer is scheduled to appear in the same four events starting in Shanghai.
Murray will be playing in the same events as well, except that the Scot will be defending his title at Tokyo this week while Djokovic takes care of business in Beijing.
Nadal’s absence is the unknown quantity—the essential missing ingredient in 2012 as the tour heads into London for the World Tour Finals which begin on November 5.
The timing is perfect for Djokovic to reassert himself as the World No. 1, and it all begins now at the China Open.