Is Novak Djokovic's Dominance Good or Bad for the ATP World Tour?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2016

Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Kei Nishikori in the finals of the 2016 Miami Open.
Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Kei Nishikori in the finals of the 2016 Miami Open.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic just won a record 28th Masters 1000 tournament. He leaped over Roger Federer for most career prize money earned. He's won four of the last five Grand Slams

Djokovic is arguably the most dominant player in tennis history. Yet there's an emerging debate about his dominance: Is it good for tennis? 

As Federer fades and Rafael Nadal continues to struggle to regain his championship form, Djokovic keeps rolling through the ATP World Tour with little resistance.

He defeated Kei Nishikori in one hour and 26 minutes in the Miami Open. That's the same Nishikori who saved five match points against a determined Gael Monfils and dismantled up-and-coming Nick Kyrgios. 

Against Monfils and Kyrgios, Nishikori looked extraordinary, yet Djokovic made one of the most exciting players on the tour look clueless on the court. 

Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri wrote last year in the Independent that Djokovic is as close to perfection as he's ever seen. 

"Let me start out by saying there is never anything that is absolutely perfect," Bollettieri wrote. "However, as I go back in time (60 years) and think about all of the players I’ve had the privilege of watching, I believe Novak Djokovic’s overall game, including the mental and physical parts, may be as perfect as I’ve seen."

How exciting it must be for today's tennis fans to witness near-perfection on display? Who wouldn't want to lay claim to living in the era of one of the game's most dominant players? 

Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after winning the Miami Open.
Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after winning the Miami Open.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

However, with the era of the Big Four—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray—seemingly gone, not everyone is eagerly embracing the Serbian's superiority. 

Djokovic leads the ATP rankings with 16,540 points. That more than doubles No. 2 Murray's 7,815 and Federer's 7,695. Djokovic has triple the points of Nadal (4,955). 

He's winning everything. But instead of celebrating his greatness, some are painting the Djokovic era as boring and bad for the game.

What is this discomfort with dominance? Why are so many put off by the pursuit of perfection? Why do people applaud failing dynasties and describe reigns of excellence as boring and bad? 

Few have been as dominant in a sport as the Connecticut women's basketball team. The Huskies are playing in their fourth consecutive NCAA final. They've won 10 national championships since 1995 and finished five seasons undefeated. This is their 17th Final Four appearance. 

This week, their head coach had to answer critics who called them bad for women's basketball. 

Last year, Awful Announcing writer Matt Yoder asked if television viewers had tuned out UConn's women's team because it's been so dominant. Yoder pointed out that television ratings for the women's final were down 28 percent from the previous year. 

The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy tweeted last week that the way UConn's women's team steamrolls opponents is "killing the women's game."

The Orlando Sentinel's David Whitely asked, "If a team wins every game by 30 points, is it wrong to yawn?"

When Djokovic makes mincemeat of Nishikori in Miami and Milos Raonic in Indian Wells, does he diminish the game, even as he elevates his legacy? 

Dominance is nothing new to tennis. Federer dominated the competition in his prime. Bjorn Borg's iconic fame grew from his dominance in the 1970s. So why the subtle digs at Djokovic? 

Wimbledon champion Pat Cash blames Djokovic's style of play. Cash wrote in a 2013 blog for CNN.com that Djokovic and Nadal play a boring brand of tennis:

It’s not boring to see two great players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic compete in a final. What is getting mundane is watching the same tactic in every single match of every single grand slam for the last five or six years. Nowadays they all settle down and say "OK, this is going to be two hours of baseline rallies." The guy who outlasts the other one wins. It’s taken a lot of the skill out of tennis.

Is that an accurate description of Djokovic's game? In an analysis for the ATP Tour website, Craig O'Shannessy wrote that Djokovic's reputation as a grinding baseliner is oversimplified. 

"The world marvels at Djokovic’s shot tolerance, indestructible defense and his ability to outlast opponents," O'Shannessy wrote. "Those are all very commendable qualities but don’t directly speak to the essence of his global domination nearly as much as his uncanny ability to dismantle opponents before a rally develops."

That's the beauty of Djokovic's game. He's a well-rounded player who finds a way to beat his opponents regardless of what they throw at him. Consider that Djokovic faces players with various styles. He's slaying the big servers, the crafty shot-makers, the heavy hitters and serve-and-volley types. 

It takes variety to sustain Djokovic's type of dominance. 

Tennis is simply in transition. It took a while for fans to warm up to Federer taking the reigns from Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Because Federer remains on the tour and in the top five, fans have yet to mourn his passing era. 

Nadal fans are wondering whether he's done or just slowly climbing out of a funk. Murray's fans are still trying to figure out if they've already seen his best. 

Djokovic comes with no doubts. He's dominant. 

If Djokovic continues to dominate, fans will come around. Whether it's the NBA's beloved Stephen Curry or the NFL's maligned Tom Brady, athletes who dominate grow fans and detractors. They become as beloved as they are polarizing.  

Curry could do no wrong last year when he upset LeBron James to become NBA MVP. That's because he was the underdog, knocking off the dominant player. Now that Curry's dominating, he's come under fire. This year, a parade of former players are taking turns knocking Curry's game and his team's place in history. 

Still, talent, excellence and brilliance are always good for the game. The best is always better, even if it leads to dominance.

Great players raise the bar. They inspire as many people as they irritate. Most importantly, they provide a blueprint for future stars to follow. They establish a winning style to emulate.

Even if Djokovic's dominance bores some, in the long run, he's good for the game.

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