Heading into 2012, Novak Djokovic had a very tall task ahead of him. All the points, titles, records and glory from 2011 had to be defended against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray—who were all motivated than ever to exact their revenge.
Unfortunately for Djokovic, they all did, yet through his rocky, roller coaster of 2012, Djokovic surprised most of the tennis world by coming out on top again, as year-end world No. 1.
However, that stat alone does not give him an A+ for the season.
Lets looks at the four seasons of tennis and grade Djokovic on his efforts.
Federer is to Wimbledon as Nadal is to Roland Garros. I think in the coming years, it will be safe to say that the analogy will include Djokovic and the Australian Open. Winning title No. 3 and Grand Slam No. 5 was no easy task for the Serb, however.
After defeating a resurgent Andy Murray in the semifinals in almost five hours, Djokovic had to retake the court two days later to face Nadal in an epic six-hour match featuring long and exhausting rallies. To defend his title in almost 11 hours on court during the final weekend deserves a top grade.
However, (and understandably) Djokovic couldn’t defend his 41-0 win/loss record from last year, losing in Dubai and to a strong John Isner in California, but still managed to capture the Masters title in Miami.
Like 2011, Djokovic had the best start to the season compared to Federer, Nadal and Murray.
Djokovic failed to win the one Slam absent from his career, Roland Garros, and Nadal was able to get his long-awaited revenge on the Serb in Monte Carlo, Rome and Roland Garros.
In Paris, Djokovic was very fortunate to reach the finals, having to do a double escape act in the fourth round against Andreas Seppi and saving match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Although he handed Nadal his only set loss in the entire tournament, Djokovic seemed to be a notch below his playing level, which you can’t afford against the best clay courter of this generation. The bad news for Djokovic is that as long as Nadal is healthy, it’s hard to see him defeating the king of clay a la Robin Soderling for the title.
Bottom line: losing 6-3, 6-1 in a Master’s final to a guy you beat every meeting on clay last year is a definite grade reduction.
Coming into the grass and hard court season, it looked as if Djokovic was going to regain the confidence that he lost in the past month. However, his highs were mediocre and his lows were very low, including his humbling losses to Federer at Wimbledon and Cincinnati.
The kicker was the Olympics though, as his loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in the bronze medal match really showed that Djokovic was not at his best and how much a medal for his country meant to him.
His highs came in Toronto, winning the tournament by defeating only one player inside the Top 10 and reaching his third consecutive US Open final.
Unlike the ending of 2011, Djokovic was red hot, winning Beijing, Shanghai and the ATP World Tour Finals—taking the fall season by storm. He produced high quality matches against Murray in Shanghai and Federer in the ATP World Tour Finals.
Djokovic also seemed happy with the way 2012 turned out via Fox News.
"It's been a very long year, a very long two years but a very successful two years," Djokovic said. "I didn't really know how I will follow up after incredible 2011, but I believed that I have to use the time where I'm playing the best tennis of my life and I'm winning Grand Slams and finally realize what I need to do to win the major tournaments."
The only hiccup came in Paris, losing to Sam Querrey in the early rounds, but I blame the Darth Vader mask.
Final Grade for 2012: A-
Through his ups and downs, Djokovic still managed an ATP-high 75 wins and reached three Grand Slam finals, winning one. But he finished the season the strongest out of Federer and Murrary, and by beating them both in London, Djokovic deserves the No. 1 ranking for 2012.
Said the best by ESPN’s Greg Garber, “Last year, after a ridiculous start, he faded badly down the stretch. This year, he started strong and finished stronger.”