Five months back, Novak Djokovic had just led his country to a famous Davis Cup victory, and it seemed—to this particular pair of eyes—as though a weight had been lifted from the 23-year-old’s shoulders.
It was enough to prompt this same pair of eyes to suggest a second Grand Slam was just around the corner. For although he had won just two titles in 2010, neither of them a Masters or a Major trophy, there was something about the culmination of his year that promised much: a maturing of Serbia’s favorite son.
That he delivered on that promise so soon—at the first Grand Slam of 2011—was less of a shock than what followed, for it seems as though the lifting of that weight of expectation has allowed him to soar to the tennis stratosphere.
In those five short months, he has remained unbeaten in 39 matches and gone on to win six more titles, four of them Masters.
By repeatedly beating the best in the world—Rafael Nadal in four Masters finals and Roger Federer in the Australian Open and two further tournaments—he has all but closed a 6,000-point gap in the rankings to become world No. 2.
He leads the points race to the World Tour Finals by more than 2,500 and has already guaranteed his place in London. The only other player to do so before Roland Garros was Nadal.
He is, on the day that the French Open begins, poised to become world No.1 for the first time: He has only to reach the final or see Nadal fall before the final, and the deal is done.
He is also, on the day the French Open begins, celebrating his 24th birthday.
A moment then to celebrate the evolution of the youngest man in the rankings all the way down to No. 20, a man now poised to set a new benchmark for the best ever start to a season.
Entirely personal, and entirely drawn on the fortunate convergence of camera with man, the selection of images begins in Djokovic’s ground-breaking 20th year, 2008.