Novak Djokovic was the most dominant player on the men's tennis hard courts in 2012 after the grass court season concluded.
It helped establish him almost 3,000 points ahead of the No. 2 player in the world, which is now Andy Murray.
The questions facing Djokovic are will he retain his edge on hard courts for the rest of 2013 and, more importantly, will he end the season as the world No. 1 once again?
After all, sometimes it is easier to get to the top than it is to stay there.
Regardless of a couple of key losses so far in 2013, Djokovic’s reign has not ended, nor will it end in 2013.
Following are the reasons for that assertion.
In 2012, Novak Djokovic won six titles, all on hard courts. Additionally the Serb reached two hard-court finals, in Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open. He ended the year as the No. 1 player in the world.
In 2013, Djokovic has won twice on hard courts. First, the Serb won at Melbourne where he recaptured the Australian Open title for the third consecutive time, then he won at Dubai, defeating No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the final.
So far this year, Djokovic is 20-2 on hard courts for a 90.9 winning percentage. Over his career, his record is 317-72 on hard courts, which works out to an 81.5 winning percentage. It is, without a doubt, the best playing surface for the Serb.
The rest of the 2013 main tour will be played on hard courts.
With his previous breathing ailment now under control, Novak Djokovic plans to play in the Rogers Cup in Montreal, where he is the defending champion and then move on to the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, where he’ll try to win the title after coming in second the past two years.
After the conclusion of those two Masters Series tournaments, Djokovic returns to the U.S. Open where he’ll attempt to win the championship for the second time after falling to Murray in last year’s final.
Then, he is scheduled to go onto Beijing and Shanghai where he won both titles in 2012. At the Paris indoors, however, Djokovic fell in the second round to Sam Querry after winning the first set, 6-0. The world No. 1 should be able to make up some ground there.
He ended last season by winning the Barclay’s WTF in London, defeating Roger Federer in the final. It was his second year-ending championship after winning the title for the first time in 2008.
The 2012 Summer Olympics interrupted Djokovic's normal schedule, setting him back. This year, without the Olympics on his calendar, the Serb will find plenty of time to rest and train on schedule. This bodes well for his summer in America and beyond.
Staying Fit and Healthy
Since 2011, no player has looked fitter and moved better than Novak Djokovic, regardless of the surface.
His all-around game is second to none on tour. One of the primary reasons is that Djokovic continues to maintain his health through diet and intense training. Staying healthy and injury-free is one of the key ingredients to hanging onto the No. 1 ranking and ending another year ranked in the top spot.
Avoiding Major Upsets in Early Rounds of U.S. Open and Masters Series Events
When Roger Federer fell in the second round of Wimbledon as the defending champion, it cost him almost 2000 points and his spot in the men’s top four.
Djokovic cannot afford such a drop in points, and more than likely, that will not happen. But the point is that it can happen even to players of Federer’s and Nadal’s calibre. Wimbledon surely brought that point home to all players at the top of the men’s game.
Playing More Aggressively
Djokovic not only lost to Andy Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon finals, but he did so in straight sets, even when he held a lead as he did the second and third sets.
Djokovic retreated and played tentative, cautious tennis when he should have been exerting pressure on Murray, who definitely had more to lose. At times. Djokovic seemed almost resigned to losing.
That mentality needs to be eliminated because Murray is not the superior player on hard courts. The time is ripe for Djokovic to turn the tables at the U.S. Open.
World Tour Finals in London 2012
Novak Djokovic has a massive amount of points to defend in 2013 from this point forward—5,810 to be exact.
At the same time, Andy Murray has 3,450 points to defend while Roger Federer has 2.820, David Ferrer has 2,720 and Rafael Nadal, of course, has no points to defend since he did not play after Wimbledon concluded in 2012.
That means his 3,000-point lead could evaporate if the world No. 1 does not concentrate on each and every match as they come in the next four or five months. Consistency is the key to staying on top and ending the season ranked No. 1.
The other unspoken issue that must plague the Serb’s camp concerns his play at Wimbledon which, granted, is not the Serb’s best surface. Although Djokovic fought back and won almost all of his matches, at times he looked less confident of winning than normal. Thsy became especially evident during his match against Murray.
Hopefully, that is just a bump in the road for Djokovic and not a real problem once play gets underway on a surface that does not give way under your feet. Wimbledon in 2013 was a nightmare for many top seeds.
U.S Open 2011
No. 2 Andy Murray
Murray is fast upon Novak Djokovic’s heels at this point. The Scot will be looking to make up ground on Djokovic in the coming months.
First, however, he’ll be under enormous pressure to defend his U.S. Open Championship. It is hard to predict how Murray will return to earth after so much celebrating and so much media attention given to him after his Wimbledon triumph.
More than likely, however, the win will spur the world No. 2 on. He will go for the top spot, which he’ll undoubtedly achieve. But Murray will not reach No. 1 by the end of this year. He will remain world No. 2.
No. 3 David Ferrer
Ferrer will be scrambling, as always, to maintain his spot in the top four.
He sits at 2,140 points behind Murray and 360 points ahead of Nadal, who rests in the No. 4 spot. More importantly, Federer is 1,435 points behind him at No. 5 in the world. It seems very likely that Ferrer will retain his ranking going into the U.S. Open, but he will, no doubt, fall out of the top four by the end of the year.
No. 4 Rafael Nadal
Nadal is the mystery because no player could come on faster, given this scenario, than the former U.S. Open champion.
With no points to defend, Nadal could amass 5,500 points quickly if he starts winning again. But there still is the question of his health, more specifically, his knees. Hard courts are far and away the worst surface for Nadal because of the jarring nature of his play. According to his coach, however, Rafa will return to action at Montreal. Then we will understand his prognosis better. He will end his season in the top four.
No. 5 Roger Federer
Federer will return to the top four by the end of the year with fewer points to defend and a more concentrated effort. Losing in the second round of Wimbledon has made the Swiss legend fully aware of what is necessary to stay in the top four. That is his goal. Being in the top four is a definite advantage in winning Grand Slam tournaments, which is Federer’s primary focus at this point in his career.
It is safe to assume that Novak Djokovic will end the season as the reigning world No. 1. He is fit, healthy and enjoys being at the top of the men’s game. He will dominate again, just as he did in 2012. Furthermore, Djokovic is not looking for a reason to lose.