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What Novak Djokovic Can Do in 2016 to Take His Legacy to the Next Level

Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds up the ATP trophy after winning the men's singles final match against Switzerland's Roger Federer on day eight of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London on November 22, 2015. 
AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK        (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
GLYN KIRK/Getty Images
Joe KennardFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2015

Novak Djokovic just authored one of the most dominant seasons in tennis history. Yet don't think for a second that he's satisfied.

Bigger prizes are in his sight for 2016.

You may be asking: "How could Djokovic possibly top what he accomplished this year?" After all, the sterling Serb posted a ridiculous 82-6 record with 11 titles (including three majors and a single-season-record six Masters crowns), made the finals in 15 of the 16 events he entered, broke a new barrier with $21,595,000 in on-court earnings and extended his unprecedented rankings lead.

And those are simply quantifiable numbers to recap an otherwise indescribable level of genius that Djokovic achieved. He played some of the most exquisite tennis ever witnessed, firmly establishing himself in the upper echelon of all-time greats.

But Djokovic won't be kicking up his feet anytime soon, not with so many valuable titles left for him to grab.

As he told Steven Griffiths of the AFP (h/t Yahoo Sports), a few specific goals are already in place: 

Roland Garros is always one of the biggest challenges I have every year, but it's not the only one. There are the Olympic Games that are happening every four years. 

Obviously we have to be honest that there is more importance to Grand Slams and the Olympic Games. 

Next year is going to be very condensed in terms of scheduling. I will try to do as well as I've done in the last couple of years, always peak at the right moments and always try to perform my best at the biggest events.

For everything that he's accomplished these last few years, one thing gnaws at Djokovic: his inability to win the French Open and complete the career Grand Slam. He's come awfully close to leaping that hurdle, reaching the final in Paris on three occasions. Yet overcoming Rafael Nadal took him seven tries, and when he accomplished that monumental feat this spring, it seemed like he would surge to the title. Instead, a red-hot Stan Wawrinka dashed his dreams in a stunning championship match.

That loss stung hard, especially since he couldn't seal the deal after taking out Nadal. When the next French Open rolls around, Djokovic will turn 29 during the tournament. How many more realistic chances does he have to win the title? The clock is ticking.

The 2016 French Open therefore takes on added importance for the world No. 1. By this stage in their careers, rivals Roger Federer and Nadal had already completed their career Grand Slams. Djokovic is desperately trying to join that elusive club and boost his legacy. Should he retire without a crown at Roland Garros, he'll still be remembered as a legend, but his resume would have a notable hole.

All his eggs will be in that proverbial basket at the start of 2016, and he'll likely have to contend with a resurgent (or so one would expect) Nadal in Paris. If he can finally get that monkey off his back, it would mark one of the most important victories of his career.

Will 2016 finally be Djokovic's year at Roland Garros?
Will 2016 finally be Djokovic's year at Roland Garros?Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Djokovic also explicitly mentioned the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio as a focal part of his upcoming schedule. With his best Olympics result a bronze medal in 2008, he has plenty of incentive to go for gold.

Theoretically, he could be playing for a career Golden Slam should he prevail at the French Open. Only two other male singles players (Andre Agassi and Nadal) are in that elite group. But regardless of what happens in Paris, the Olympics will hold extra weight because of the prestige factor and its non-annual basis.

Most importantly for Djokovic is that he'll be playing for Serbia, a country that has won only a single gold medal as an independent nation. Capturing the singles event would be special not just for Djokovic, but for everyone at home as well. He'd provide an inspirational moment for all his compatriots.

Should he triumph at either event, Djokovic's legacy would be enhanced immeasurably. But there's another way he could send it into a different stratosphere: winning a calendar Grand Slam.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates with the winner's trophy after defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland during their Men's Singles Final match on Day Fourteen of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

That sounds like an absurd proposition to speculate about. Then again, Djokovic isn't an ordinary athlete; he's building a reputation for making the impossible seem normal. Djokovic came within two sets of actually winning a calendar Grand Slam in 2015, and it's not unrealistic to think he could do it.

At age 28, he'll be in his absolute prime next season while his key rivals all deal with questions about their games. The massive target on his own back (as well as the pressure) may ultimately keep Djokovic from sweeping all four majors, but if anyone can step up to the challenge, it's him.

Djokovic is a perfectionist. Winning every tournament of note is a point of pride for him and a career goal. While it's prioritized much lower than the French Open or the Olympics, Djokovic will be keen to win a maiden title in Cincinnati before he hangs up his racket. All five times he's made the final there, Djokovic came up short. Now, it's the only thing keeping him from another historic achievement: becoming the first player to win all of the Masters Series events.

Despite his record-breaking 2015, there's still so much for him to accomplish. While emulating the numbers he compiled this year will be tough, Djokovic could wind up having an even more emotionally fulfilling and career-defining season in 2016.

 

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted.

Joe Kennard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.

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