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Novak Djokovic: Where does 2018 rank among Djokovic's greatest seasons?

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 22 Nov 2018
  • Novak Djokovic produced one of his finest seasons in 2018, but was it his greatest campaign?
  • Djokovic finished the year at No. 1, having being outside the top 20 in May
Novak Djokovic. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic has formed a really good habit of producing legendary seasons, and he came up with another one in 2018, but in the pantheon of great Djokovic campaigns, where does his 2018 campaign rank?

Djokovic has had many fine seasons- he's basically been churning them out since 2011 (except 2017, of course), but these three really stand out for me- 2011, 2015 and 2018...

Novak Djokovic's Seasons from 2011-2018

Novak Djokovic20112012201320142015201620172018
Grand Slam Titles311132-2
Masters 1000 Titles533464-2
Top Ten Wins212424193121215

Statistically, 2015 remains Djokovic’s best season, having amassed an incredible 82-6 win-loss record, but we obviously have to put things into perspective. Unlike 2018, he didn’t have elbow surgery, and hadn’t missed about half of the previous season.

Djokovic was 6-6 for the season, and outside the top 20 in May. (Photo credit should read PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
Djokovic looked lost in the first half of 2018, and had limped to a 6-6 record, and slipped outside the top 20 by mid-May. There were many who thought the end had come for the Serbian, but then came the stunning resurgence. From the start of Wimbledon, Djokovic went on an absolute tear, winning 35 of his 38 matches, claiming Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, and Masters 1000 crowns in Cincinnati and Shanghai. 

I think the turning point of Djokovic’s season was his epic win over Nadal at Wimbledon. While he was playing well in the weeks leading up to that, there was still that element of uncertainty about the Serbian. However, that result against Nadal, and the manner of the victory, was the catalyst to the renaissance, as he believed again that he could last the distance against the very best players in the world. It would have been nice to see him play Nadal a few more times before the end of the year, but that didn’t happen as Nadal featured in just two tournaments after Wimbledon.

Djokovic usurped the Spaniard to finish the season as the No. 1 player in the world, becoming the first player in the history of the rankings to secure the year-end No. 1 position, having being ranked outside the top 20 during the course of the year.

But does this incredible renaissance make his 2018 better than 2015, or 2011 for that matter? I don’t think so.

It’s easy to get caught up in Djokovic’s 2018 brilliance and hastily conclude that it was his best ever, but more critical examination would suggest otherwise. The one area that sets those other years apart for me, is the quality of the opposition.

Djokovic had 15 top-ten wins in 2018, which is just about half of his career-best haul of 31, recorded in 2015. There’s a very fair argument that both seasons are at par in this regard, given that the Serbian was virtually non-existent in the first half of 2018. Indeed, Djokovic scored just one top-ten win in the first half of 2018, against Grigor Dimitrov at Queen’s, with the other 14 coming after the start of Wimbledon in July.

Of Djokovic’s 15 top-ten wins in 2018, three were against Kevin Anderson, three against Marin Cilic, two each against Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev, and one against John Isner, Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal. With all due respect to Djokovic, and the aforementioned players, there have been better top-ten fields. Nadal and Federer are the reference points of greatness in this generation, and the fact that he played them just thrice combined during his resurgent second half counts against 2018 in the ‘greatest ever season conversation’. 

His epic victory over Nadal at Wimbledon was arguably the pivotal win in his 2018 renaissance. (Photo credit should read NIC BOTHMA/AFP/Getty Images)
I’m not saying he would not have beaten them if they had met more often- he has a winning record against both players- but playing over half of the time (top-ten opponents) against Dimitrov, Anderson and Cilic certainly made his job easier.

He was 5-3 against Federer in 2015, and 4-0 against Nadal. In 2011, Djokovic was 4-1 against Federer, and a staggering 6-0 against Nadal. That’s a combined 10-1 record against Federer and Nadal in 2011! Let’s also not forget that Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka were in the picture, especially in 2015, when he went 6-1 against Murray and 3-1 against Wawrinka. It was total carnage, and absolute dominance against some of the best players in the history of the sport, two of whom are arguably the greatest to ever lift a tennis racket.

While he recorded his best win-loss record in 2015, 2011 gets my vote as his best ever season because of the way he dislodged and dominated those juggernauts, Nadal and Federer. Nadal was very much at the top of his game- the Spaniard had won Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in the previous year, and was the undisputed No. 1 player in the world, while Federer was 29 at the start of the year, and was still very much in and around his prime. The great Swiss won the Australian Open in 2010.

Djokovic blew everyone away in a tremendous beginning, opening the season with an astounding 41-0 run, including back-to-back victories over Nadal on the clay of Madrid and Rome. He did not lose a match until the Roland Garros semi-final against Federer! That only served as a minor blip, as he launched another 23-1 run post Roland Garros, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and Montreal. His only defeat during that second spell was a retirement against Andy Murray in Cincinnati. He didn’t win any more titles after the US Open, but the inevitable fatigue set in, just to show that he was human!

To think that he won 12 more matches in 2015! Now that wasn’t human!

2018 was great, given the circumstances, but was it his greatest season/achievement? Definitely not, for me. I'd say the third greatest, after 2011 and 2015.

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Novak Djokovic: Where does 2018 rank among Djokovic's greatest seasons?

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