When putting together a list of the best male athletes today, names that immediately come to mind include Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt to name a few.
All of them are titans of their respective sports. But currently, one man might have them all beat when it comes to pure dominance.
The 28-year-old Serbian is in a class all his own at the moment. Djokovic doesn’t just rule the game of tennis—he obliterates the competition with machine-like perfection. Holding his spot as the No. 1-ranked player for the last 68 weeks (and counting), it’ll be a long time before he vanquishes that spot thanks to his astonishing 2015 season.
His last five years have been special, but this one in particular is his magnum opus. The numbers he’s producing are downright mind-boggling. Overall, Djokovic is a staggering 73-5, including a 24-4 mark against top-10 foes. And he still has two tournaments left to pad those statistics.
Since losing in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open to open his season, Djokovic has reached the finals of the last 13 events he’s entered. Titles came at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Beijing and Shanghai. Only a near miss at the French Open kept him from the first calendar Grand Slam in 46 years.
But for one zoning afternoon from Stan Wawrinka, @DjokerNole turns in one of the great years in sports - never mind tennis - history— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) October 17, 2015
Because of those achievements, Djokovic has earned a record $16 million in prize money; it really does pay to be the king. He’s also lapping the field in the rankings, nearly doubling the point total of No. 2 Andy Murray. Talk about a monopoly.
In the last few weeks, Djokovic has elevated his play to a level rarely before witnessed, if ever. Dating back to the U.S. Open final in September, he’s won his last 22 sets, only once being taken so far as a tiebreaker. Just when it appeared as if Djokovic had maximized every ounce of his potential, he somehow keeps getting better and better. That’s a scary reality for his beleaguered colleagues, who are left to wonder what they can possibly do to slow him down.
The heights Roger Federer hit from 2005 to 2007 were considered the pinnacle for any player in history. Yet Djokovic's 2015 campaign is comparable to his rival's legendary 2006 season, which included a 92-5 record, 12 titles and 16 finals in 17 tournaments.
Trying to decide between those two is endlessly debatable, but Djokovic is doing his damage in an era with better overall competition. Four other Grand Slam champions are embedded in the top 10, with a fifth not far behind. All of them are left fighting for scraps because of Djokovic's mastery.
Reflecting on his year to CNN's Don Riddell, Djokovic said:
Everything came together for me this season that has been definitely the best of my life, the best of my career; [I'm] just trying to cherish every moment spent on the court.
There's not one thing I can point out and say, well that's the secret of success. Obviously it's many years of hard work, dedication professionalism, passion and love for the sport, and just understanding of yourself as a person and a player and how to improve, how to get yourself to the peak of your abilities.
In that same piece, Djokovic was asked about his chances of surpassing Federer's record of 17 Grand Slam titles. "I think I have a good chance, but again, it's a long way ahead," he said. "But knowing that I'm 28 and I still don't feel like the end is anytime soon, that definitely excites me and motivates me to keep on going."
Healthy, superbly fit and relatively young, Djokovic’s prime may indeed extend quite a while longer. Based off his current trajectory, it's not unrealistic to imagine him surpassing Federer’s hallowed achievements and completely rewriting the record books.
But enough speculation about the future. What makes him so special is what he’s doing right now.
Djokovic is as close to perfect as anyone who’s ever stepped on a tennis court. He simply has no weaknesses, physically or mentally. He can hit every shot in the book with searing precision, using his powerful forehand and exquisite backhand to outlast opponents from the baseline. Perhaps the most skilled returner in the game’s history, the lithe Djokovic is a master at turning defense into offense from even the most vulnerable position.
Once considered too soft and not serious enough to become a consistently great force, Djokovic completely nullified those perceptions with his renaissance 2011 season. Things that were once his weakness are now strengths because of his unrelenting work ethic. Even in his late 20s, he keeps finding ways to improve.
Watching him play is like witnessing Claude Monet paint or Ludwig van Beethoven compose. Djokovic is so ruthlessly efficient and determined, his eyes focused like lasers on the ball every single point. Even when his opponent does something extraordinary, Djokovic always seems to calmly swat away the challenge. Just taking a game off him at the moment is an exercise in futility.
When comparing him to the greats from other sports, what makes Djokovic stand out isn't necessarily all the statistics but the combination of his records, the ease with which he glides past the competition, his athleticism and mental fortitude—and so much more.
Most of the other top athletes have teammates to rely on. Not Djokovic: All the pressure is squarely on his shoulders. Singles play doesn't afford him the same luxuries, and it's solely up to him to find solutions during matches.
Although tennis isn't a contact sport, it's no less taxing from an endurance standpoint. And no player can top Djokovic in that regard. Three to five hours on the court? Not a problem for him.
Whether Djokovic is the most dominate male athlete is open to interpretation. But he sure makes a compelling case by constantly upping the ante and producing magic while leaving his peers well behind.
And as crazy as it sounds, he may not have yet reached his peak.
All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted.
Joe Kennard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.