Novak Djokovic is really good at playing tennis. This much I know, because on Monday I was assigned by my editor to write an article about how good Djokovic actually is at playing tennis, and how his legacy as a player will eventually stack up with Rafael Nadal's.
Full disclosure here: I have not watched a tennis match in about 15 years, and the only things I knew about Novak Djokovic when I got the assignment were that A) he existed and B) he played tennis.
So in the wake of receiving the assignment, I had to do copious amounts of research in order to come to a conclusion. Here's what I've discovered.
To date, Djokovic has compiled a career record of 371-106, good for a 77.7 percent winning percentage, to go along with 25 career titles. He also has a bronze medal in the Olympics to his name. His $26,116,690 in career earnings ranks fifth all time.
Djokovic has two grand slam titles to his name: the 2008 and 2011 Australian Opens.
At one point in his career he won 43 consecutive matches, including 41 straight to open 2011 before losing to Roger Federer in the 2011 French Open Finals—the third highest consecutive match win streak of all time behind Guillermo Vilas' 46-match win streak in 1977 and Ivan Lendl's 44 consecutive wins in 1981-82.
Come Monday, July 4, 2011, Novak Djokovic will become the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world for the first time in his career, regardless of whether or not he beats Nadal in the Wimbledon finals.
All of these are incredible accomplishments, and Djokovic has had an incredible career thus far.
However—and this is a big however—his record against the other best players in the world is not so stellar.
Djokovic has faced Roger Federer 23 times in his career and lost 14 of them, winning just nine. Federer leads Djokovic on every surface on which they have played. Federer is the one who ended Djokovic's 41-match winning streak at the French Open finals.
Djokovic has played Rafael Nadal 27 times and Nadal has won 16 of them to Djokovic's 11. Despite being the only person to ever compile double-digit wins against Nadal, Djokovic still has a losing record against the Spaniard. In the one Grand Slam final they've met, the 2010 US Open, Nadal dispatched of Djokovic with relative ease, three sets to one.
Djokovic's two Grand Slam finals wins have come against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Andy Murray, while his two Grand Slam finals losses have come against Federer and Nadal. If he beats Nadal in this year's Wimbledon final, it will mark the first time he has defeated one of the top three players in the world in a Grand Slam final.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal is just one year older than Djokovic and has compiled a career record of 517-108, good for an 82.7 percent winning percentage and 46 career titles. He has 10 career Grand Slam titles to his name—the 2009 Australian Open, 2010 US Open, 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon, and 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 French Open.
Nadal has a winning record against both Djokovic (16-11) and Roger Federer (17-8). He has earned $41,768,862 already in his career. He also has won an Olympic gold medal.
All of those numbers are better than Novak Djokovic's in the same categories. Just about the only thing Djokovic has on Nadal is his consecutive match streak, but one could argue that Nadal's 81 match winning streak on clay courts was just as impressive. If Nadal beats Djokovic in the Wimbledon Final, he will still have yet to lose to Djokovic in a Grand Slam final.
All of this information leads me to believe that while Novak Djokovic is obviously a terrific tennis player, one of the best of his time and maybe one of the best of all time, his legacy will simply never measure up to Rafael Nadal's. Nadal is so far ahead of him in so many statistics that matter, and they are so close in age that it simply does not compute that Djokovic will ever pass him.
Of course, if Djokovic takes down Nadal in the Wimbledon final, maybe the tide will turn. I don't know.
What I definitely do know is I'll be watching for the first time in years, and I can't wait to see what happens.