Novak Djokovic won his 11th Grand Slam title in Melbourne, sealing his 4th slam since the start of 2015. He is now one slam away from the non-Calendar Grand Slam, a feat that even his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have not been able to achieve.
Djokovic has played some sensational tennis, and has dominated all his major rivals in the big matches. His head to head against Murray is 10-1 in their last 11 matches, he has won the last 5 matches against Nadal without dropping a set, and has beaten Federer in the last 3 slams relatively comfortably. His game has found the consistency that was lacking between 2012-2014, with less mental lapses and dips in concentration. However I believe that another reason he has been able to dominate to the extent he has is the strength of his competition has diminished.
Major Rivals Declining:
Between 2007-2014 in Grand Slams, Federer and Nadal combined beat Djokovic 14 times (Nadal x8, Federerx6), while Djokovic could only beat Federer and Nadal combined 9 times (Nadal x3, Federer x6). So the Grand Slam Head To Head between ‘Fedal’ and Djokovic between 2007-2014 was 14-9 to Fedal. Meanwhile in 2015 and so far in 2016, the Slam Head To Head has been 4-0 to Djokovic against Fedal.
Rafael Nadal has clearly been in decline since 2014. Between 2012-2014 Nadal had a 4-1 Head To Head against Djokovic in Slams; but after a wrist injury and appendix surgery at the end of 2014, he has not come back as the player he once was. At the age of 29, Nadal has lost some of the explosive foot speed that made him so dangerous, and his renowned forehand has lost the consistency and bite that tore opponents down. Nadal’s decline has meant that during 2015 and so far in 2016 the Spaniard has not been a threat in Grand Slams, a welcome fact to all his rivals including Novak Djokovic.
Roger Federer despite his incredible efforts so late on in his career, is not the player he was when he was in his twenties. Due to his immense longevity he is still at the top of the men’s game, but some tennis fans who have criticized the Swiss forget that he is nearly 35 years old. He has lost some foot speed which has meant he has not been able to run around his backhand as effectively as he could do when he was younger, making it easier for opponents to avoid being the victim of Federer’s vaporizing forehand. Federer has also lost some stamina, which makes it very hard to beat Djokovic in a best of 5. In 2015 he beat Djokovic 3 times, all in best of 3 matches, but was beaten in 4 sets in the last 3 Slam events. Thus there is no doubt that despite his best efforts the Swiss has declined, which has played into Djokovic’s hands, especially in Grand Slams.
Lack of Young Players:
Another reason why many feel Djokovic’s competition has been quite weak has been the lack of young players breaking through. The decline of Federer and Nadal, both of whom dominated tennis for nearly a decade, was to be expected with age; but simultaneously no young player who should be reaching their prime has shown star qualities.
Nishikori, Dimitrov, and Raonic are 23-25 years old, and have not lived up to the hype given to them when they were younger. Nishikori has been injury prone and not been able to consistently play tennis at a top level, although in a few moments such as the US Open 2014 he has shown he does have the potential. Raonic has had a disappointing career so far, although he will hope to turn that around in 2016 with a more attacking game. Dimitrov’s game has really stalled, with a lack of consistency on the backhand and poor mental strength sending him out of the top 20.
The next generation of players even younger than that have shown some promising signs, with players such as Kyrgios, Coric, Vesely all tipped to be future world numbers ones. Kyrgios has recorded wins against Nadal and Federer, but as he displayed in his defeat to Berdych, he has not yet got the mental temperament to challenge in the latter stages of Slams. The other teenagers have made some progress, but it may be a long while before they even get near the level of the top 5, forget challenging the world number 1 in Novak Djokovic.
To conclude, I think it is a fair assessment to say that as well as Djokovic is playing, at the moment the field is quite weak and not as strong as the Serbian faced when he was younger. Federer and Nadal have declined, Murray seems to have an inferiority complex, and no young players have emerged as world class. Like with Serena in the women’s game, Djokovic’s biggest enemy in the next few years may be himself. Credit has to go to Djokovic for taking advantage, and we must keep in mind that he can only beat what is in front of him, but for the sake of tennis fans: let’s hope someone rises up and challenges Djokovic soon.