Why Novak Djokovic Was the Best Athlete of 2011

George Peck@geopeckContributor IIDecember 24, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  2011 US Open Singles Men's Champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with his trophy atop the Empire State Building on September 13, 2011 in New York City, New York. Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal of Spain in 4 sets during their match on September 12, 2011 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for ATP)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic’s 2011 campaign will go down as one of, if not the best, single tennis seasons of all time.

No one would have foreseen such a successful season for the Serb. Coming into the year, Djokovic had never been ranked No. 1, and had only one major title under his belt—the 2008 Australian Open.

Djokovic came out of the gate on fire.

He began the season with a 41-match winning streak. Djokovic won three of the four major titles—losing only to Federer in the semis of the French Open.

He won 10 titles and totaled over 12 million dollars of prize money. His current record of 70-6 in 2011 speaks for itself. He was practically unbeatable.

Everything came together for the Serb this season.

He was already a polished player coming into the year, he just needed to take that extra step. All facets of his game improved. His serve became more of a weapon.

Djokovic displayed his flawless movement again and again. He put pressure on the server with his pinpoint returns.

Maybe the biggest thing Djokovic did to achieve what he has was get in the best shape of his life. In many matches prior to this season Djokovic would be gasping for breath late in matches. In some matches he was forced to retire.

This season, due to his great play, he was able to finish matches quickly, which helps with fatigue late in tournaments. But with his gluten-free diet, among other things, Djokovic was in great shape. Barring a few minor injuries, Djokovic stayed healthy throughout his impressive season.

Djokovic’s level of play in 2011 was nothing short of remarkable. Unfortunately, since tennis is not one of the most-followed sports in the United States, he probably will not get the credit he deserves.

But why is Djokovic deserving of the title of the best athlete of 2011?

It’s hard to argue against Aaron Rodgers, who led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl Championship. The Packers had not lost a game since December of 2010 before the Chiefs handed the cheeseheads their first loss of the year.

Unlike football and most other sports, tennis is a solo sport.

Of course we are talking about singles, not doubles. You have no one to rely on but yourself on the court. If you are having an off day, no teammate can pick up the slack for you. Everything falls on your shoulders.

Djokovic came through consistently in the big moments in 2011. Djokovic was the guy everyone was after. Instead of being the hunter, he was now the hunted.

Djokovic played through all of the chatter and pressure that comes with an undefeated streak. After finally losing his first match of the year, Djokovic rebounded strongly with a championship at Wimbledon.  

What is most impressive about Djokovic’s play was his consistency.

The tennis season is grueling. It requires a great amount of mental and physical fortitude to deal with the nonstop season. A player must travel all the time, and always be ready to play every day.

In this day and age there are no easy matches on the ATP World Tour. Any player will tell you the competitiveness is at an all-time high. Djokovic had to play a tough opponent every match, and for him to go 70-6 is incredible.

Prior to the 2011 season Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took turns winning the majors every year. Djokovic took a big step forward, and for the first time believed that he could beat the two great champions.

He did just that.

Djokovic solidified himself as the next king of tennis in 2011. Time and time again he beat the best—and for that, Djokovic deserves to be named the best athlete of 2011.