Novak Djokovic's loss to Rafael Nadal at the 2013 U.S. Open is much more than just another loss.
The defeat means that for the second straight year the top-ranked Serbian has failed to win another major after winning the Australian Open to begin the season.
It also means that the 26-year-old has missed out on another opportunity to close the gap on active Grand Slam legends Roger Federer and Nadal, who each boast double-digit major titles. Djokovic added a sixth career Slam title back in January, but had four to his name after winning the U.S. Open for the first and only time in 2011.
The disappointing loss also means that 2013 could mark the first time since 2010 that Djokovic fails to win 70 singles matches and six tournament titles in a season. He won 70 matches in 2011 and 75 more in 2012. He also won a combined 16 titles (10 in 2011 and six in 2012) over those two seasons.
With the win, Nadal cemented his status as the No. 1 men's player in 2013. He is now 22-0 on hard-court surfaces in 2013.
He entered Flushing Meadows with a 44-8 season singles record and three titles to his name.
As for the rest of 2013, Djokovic will have excellent chances to rebound on the hard courts of Shanghai and Paris. He won the Shanghai Masters a year ago—defeating Andy Murray in the final—and took the title in Paris as recently as 2009.
Djokovic will also have an opportunity to elevate himself back to the top of men's tennis at the ATP World Tour Finals in London at season's end. He was near flawless there in 2012, winning all five of his matches and claiming his second career year-end title.
Just like last year and in seasons past, Djokovic's 2013 campaign won't be judged on this one loss at Flushing Meadows, but it could have a huge impact on how he is remembered when his career is all said and done.
Tennis fans and experts have been waiting anxiously to elevate Djokovic from superstar to legend status. But if he keeps missing out on opportunities to add to his resume in the prime of his career, his overall legacy will pale in comparison to the greats of men's tennis.
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