Why the 2015 US Open Is Crucial to Novak Djokovic's Legacy

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts in the Final Of The Gentlemen's Singles against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 12, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With a third Wimbledon title now on the mantelpiece, Novak Djokovic cannot be satisfied with anything less than winning the 2015 U.S. Open. The Serbian is the No. 1 player in the world by a wide margin, having won more big trophies in the last six months (two majors and four Masters 1000 titles) than the majority of top 10-caliber players will win in an entire career.

From a more historically relevant angle, the Djokovic legacy is now one of the best five collections of the Open era, spanning nearly 50 years. It’s Year Five A.D. (After Djokovic) of his mighty reign, and notwithstanding some troublesome blips and disappointments, 2015 has now bookended 2011 for a chunk of tennis superiority that ranks right up there with Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Side note: From French Opens 2012-14, Djokovic lost five of six times in major finals, and he also dropped his most agonizing semifinal at the 2013 French Open when this title would have been approximately a 99.9 percent certainty against Mighty Mouse David Ferrer.

We are talking about the kind of dominance that mathematically is supposed to happen about once a decade, but which of course has now happened three times in the last decade of a Golden Age of tennis in full view of a social media world of tennis critics and rival fanbases.

However, there is usually a more muted reception to Djokovic’s wondrous achievements, in part because of the way that he perseveres with machine-like precision to overcome adversity and stifle the drama that often swirls around Federer and Nadal.

And so Djokovic must continue to win more major titles, because the Sistine Ceiling of his career has not been finished. There are more patches to paint over, more holes to fill and more masterpieces to create.

Alexander the Great who (allegedly) famously cried because there were no more worlds to conquer could never know what it is like to be the most dominant tennis player in the world. Even Djokovic is aware that it’s never enough to win nine majors including three Wimbledons.

His next Herculean task is to dominate the U.S. Open. While greater tennis immortality hinges most on Djokovic winning the French Open, New York has been Paris’ evil twin sister, less renowned but nearly as fickle and devious to the Serbian.

 

Djokovic Dynasty

Jonathan Brady/Associated Press

Sporting dynasties are centered upon sustained, sweeping dominance that can be remembered decades later. These dynasties inspire future generations, while elderly fans seemingly hop out of time machines to recall details. Their aura of dominance is built on championship repetition.

We’re watching that now with Djokovic’s talent, heart and desire, but there is plenty of unfinished business.

Djokovic has clinched his second multi-slam year (Federer has five and Nadal three), and he is poised to get that third major of 2015 like he did in 2011. It’s not only important to post another glut of majors because of his legendary rivals, but especially to show his expanded range of dominance of the last half-decade.

Furthermore, Djokovic would love to add more diversity to his resume. Eight of his nine major championships have come at Australia or England, while one major (2011 U.S. Open) has come at Paris and New York combined. It’s a strange breakdown, but his two most successful venues are both interrupted by his two least successful venues, meaning that he has only once been able to string together a streak of consecutive majors (three in a row from 2011 Wimbledon to 2012 Australia).

In other words, Djokovic’s winning has been more intermittent as opposed to other historical legends who have often captured the Wimbledon-U.S. Open double on summer’s tennis stage.

Contrast that with the more renowned Borg-Nadal-Federer feat of capturing the rare French-Wimbledon double. Those kinds of streaks live on more in the minds and scrutiny of casual tennis and sports fans.

In addition, Djokovic would like to improve his ratio of nine major final wins to eight final losses. Here is how he ranks alongside some of the other legends of the Open era:

Pete Sampras          14-4     .777

Rafael Nadal            14-6     .700

Bjorn Borg               11-5     .688

Roger Federer          17-9    .654

John McEnroe            7-4     .636

Mats Wilander           7-4     .636

Jimmy Connors         8-7      .533

Andre Agassi            8-7      .533

Novak Djokovic      9-8     .529

Ivan Lendl                8-11    .421

Go West and Win the U.S. Open

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

It’s not as if Djokovic has been shut out at the U.S. Open, but it’s been four years since that title, and he has been lashed or snakebit too often in the finals, falling to Federer (2008), Nadal twice (2010, 13) and Andy Murray (2012). Last year he inexplicably lost to an inspired Kei Nishikori, who put on a marathon run of matches to get himself in the final.

His lack of dominant success on fast hard courts is another soft spot that critics poke. The only Masters 1000 tournament he has not won is on the speedy surface at Cincinnati. He is nowhere near the five U.S. Open championships won by Sampras and Federer.

Winning the 2015 U.S. Open title could go a long way toward turning around this struggling reputation in upper North America. It’s not as if he cannot get the job done. He has regularly won on fast courts and indoor venues like the Paris Masters and the WTF championships in London. He must continue to win if he is to remain the undisputed dominator of 2015.

Djokovic is the story in men’s tennis right now. He’s the front page, the middle section and the ads. Will he or won’t he?  There’s no reason to ask who the subject is. All championships go through him, and the rest of the tour is chasing him with little margin for error.

Right now, he walks alone.

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