Monday, September 12, 2016

A note to #NoleFam

Today I had a question on twitter for NoleFam: Given how high expectations were after 2015, are you happy with Djokovic's 2016 or a little disappointed?

I realize the question is a little premature, since we still have three elite events left this year. The tweet had 36 responses and many people had to use abbreviations to fit their answer in 140 characters. I'm not even going to try to fit my answer in 140 characters.

The answers ranged from "happy" to "can't complain" to "worried about injuries" to "disappointment" and for others a recognition of how spoiled we are to even consider that this season was somehow a disappointment.

It's true, we are spoiled. However, given the bar that Djokovic has set for himself and how high our expectations were for him this year, is this a disappointment. Considering that I'm answering this question right after a loss, it's easier to say yes. If I answered this question after Roland Garros, I would have said nothing else matters.

To answer the question though, I have to go back to what I expected in December 2015 for this season. Unfortunately, I didn't write it down anywhere, so it is hard to remember exactly what I expected. However, there was a "wish list" that I had in my head, so let's look at how Djokovic did relative to that list.

I put these in order of how badly I wanted them:

Win Roland Garros: A big yes to this one! There was so much pain built up from all the near misses the previous five years that finally winning Roland Garros let all that pain go away and it turned into sheer joy, because Djokovic also won the Grand Slam (all four majors in a row), which is the greatest accomplishment in tennis and it hadn't been done since 1969.

Reach the quarterfinals at every major: Didn't do it at Wimbledon. When Djokovic lost to Wawrinka in the Australian Open quarterfinals, that loss was especially tough to accept for me. Not because I wanted Djokovic to win the title so badly, but because it ended Djokovic's long streak of semifinals reached. Once that streak was over, I started to care a lot about his quarterfinal streak. I wanted Djokovic to break Federer's record of 36 consecutive quarterfinals reached, which many considered to be impossible to break. He was very close, but a bad day against Querrey ended it all. It shows how impressive Federer's streak was. That loss to Querrey was tougher than any other this year.

Remain No. 1 all year:  TBD. This has been my goal for Djokovic every year. He finally did it last year, so now I want to see how long he can keep this streak alive. It looks pretty likely that he will hold on until the end of the season, but Murray still is a threat, especially if Djokovic is injured.

Win Cincinnati: Not this year. To me, Cincinnati is almost as important as a major at this point. It's the only Masters Series 1000 event that he hasn't won. I'm of the opinion that having titles at more events is more impressive than lots of titles at the same event. So if you had won each major once, that is more impressive than winning the same major four times. The good news is that Djokovic can win this one next year. Having won all nine Masters Series events will likely be Djokovic's toughest record to break once his career is over... if he does it. That's why it's so important to me.

Win Gold: This one was a no. The Olympics has never mattered to me much. The Olympics is a swimming and gymnastics event. It's not a tennis event. Winning gold is worth zero ranking points, so it really doesn't matter. Still, it's better to have gold than to not have it, and this was Djokovic's last opportunity to win it.

Have a positive winning record against Federer and Nadal: Yes to this one. To have a winning record against two of the greatest players of all time is a massive achievement. When Djokovic retires, this will be one of the key points in his GOAT resume. Djokovic is younger than Federer and Nadal and lost to both of them a lot early in his careers. However, he turned the tables on them so drastically that he overcame huge deficits in the head to head records. This is a real testament to the degree of dominance Djokovic has had since 2011.

At this point, Djokovic already has two of those and will likely complete three of the six things on my wishlist. So is does that make me happy or am I disappointed?

A lot of people said when Djokovic lost to Querrey that it was okay because he had won Roland Garros. Then Djokovic lost to Del Potro, but that was okay, because he had won Roland Garros. Then Djokovic pulled out of Cincinnati, but that was okay for the same reason. Then the loss to Wawrinka happened, and I felt that all the joy of having won Roland Garros had been erased by all these losses.

However, as I look back on it, nothing can take away from the joy of the day Djokovic won Roland Garros, but that doesn't mean that the losses to Querrey, Del Potro and Wawrinka aren't disappointing. They are separate events that produce separate emotions that don't simply cancel out.

There is one other factor, and many people hit on this in their answers. Djokovic started the year great, but has since dropped off a tad in his degree of dominance. Now he has the toe issue, which could hamper him for the rest of the season. The first half of the year was amazing, but the second half of the year was relatively disappointing for Djokovic.

I personally would rather start weak and finish strong. Because Djokovic started strong but finished weak, he has a lot of points to defend in the next eight months with not as many points in the bank, meaning the No. 1 ranking is at risk.

Also, this doesn't exactly inspire hope that Djokovic will dominate in 2017. Djokovic has finished the last few years very strong, so I have gone into the off season very optimistic. Unless something crazy happens in the next two months, I won't be nearly as optimistic this off season.

Conclusion: I'm both disappointed and happy. I realize this is a total cop out, but if you told me this is what was going to happen nine months ago, that's what I would have felt. It's like being kissed by your crush while sitting on a cactus. It's both beautiful and wonderful, while at the same time being painful. That's the best way I can describe how I feel about 2016. I also fully recognized that I have been totally spoiled by Djokovic, but I truly hope that he can one day be considered the GOAT. He's not there yet, but he is getting closer with every win.


  1. How do you feel now that the year finished in a dismal fashion for Novak? Also what's your take on the guru?

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