Just when one thought world tennis was privileged to see one of the best players of all time in the form of Roger Federer, we were treated with something special i.e. the Federer-Nadal rivalry for good 5 years. Then there was something more for tennis fans in the form of Novak Djokovic . 2012 promises more for the future with Andy Murray making a strong statement. As a tennis fan, I consider myself extremely lucky to be in a generation where there is a quality four-way rivalry and we are guaranteed with some of the best tennis action for the future. Tennis is in safe hands.
Having seen the best individual years of these top three players, I felt it is the right time to compare their individual best years (assuming Murray’s best year is yet to come). I have analysed their performance, circumstances in those years, level of competition and have come up with the conclusion of who is the best, according to me. The best year is chosen considering the achievement and form of these players in those years.
|Player||Best Year||Age||Performance in slams and year end(YD) masters|
|Australian||French||Wimbledon||US open||YD Masters|
Table which shows the performance of the top 3 in slams
|No. of titles||11||7||10|
Table that shows the performance as a whole in their best years
Backdrop-From 2000-2003 there was no one to dominate tennis after Sampras retired and there were many world number 1s just lasting for few months. Then Federer came and completely took tennis world by storm in 2004. By the end of 2005, it was clear that he was supposed to dominate 2006 but only question was, could he beat Nadal on clay?
Positives-Federer, who was serve-and-volley player, transformed completely into an all-court player by 2004 and was a treat to watch. He was born to play tennis. He taught tennis lessons. He was elegant. He was artistic. He was brutal and dominated opponents. He was flawless. He was effortless. He was ROGER FEDERER. He won everything. He was a complete tennis player and never had injuries largely because of his nature of his game and better planning of tournaments.
Negatives- He failed in his biggest test. Beating Nadal in the French Open. 4 out of his 5 losses came against his nemesis Nadal. He has never able to beat Nadal in the French Open till date and that remains the only black mark in his otherwise illustrious career.
Backdrop-By 2008, it was clear that Nadal was ready to look beyond clay and the only hindrance for him to achieve greatness wass his physical injury, which was due to his nature of play. He had a bad second half in 2009, mainly due to injuries, and everyone knew his performance in 2010 is dependent on his physical condition.
Positives-Going by statistics, Nadal’s 2010 does not look as flamboyant as Federer’s 2006 or Djokovic’s 2011. But it was his best year and he played unbelievable tennis when it mattered the most in the Slams. He won the French Open without dropping a set and was brutal in the second week of Wimbledon. But the thing that stands out for me was the US Open. I have never seen him serve so well and play that level of tennis in any other tournament. He looked unbeatable when he was at his peak especially when serving so well.
Negatives-What went against him was the fact that he did not completely dominate the year. He looked vulnerable pre-clay season (due to injuries) and post-US open(due to fatigue). His best chance to win the year-end Masters came this year but he lost to Federer in final. 2010 was his best chance till date to win the year-end Masters as he has not won it till date.
Backdrop- The difference between Federer (2006), Nadal (2010) and Djokovic (2011) is Djokovic performance in 2011 came as a big surprise for many. In other words, Federer was expected to have a great time in 2006 and we can say the same to some extend with Nadal in 2010. Federer and Nadal were dominating tennis since 2004 and were expected to continue the trend. So what made Djokovic different in 2011? For me, the 2010 US Open semifinal win over Federer was his turning point simply because he never used to win tough 5 sets before. He is talented no doubt but his physical strength was a big question.
Positives- It was a wonderful year in many ways. Mainly because the quality of opponents he was facing. Federer by no means was playing badly. In fact, I would rate Federer’s 2011 ahead of his 08, 09 and 10. Nadal was injury-free and was playing top quality tennis. 2011 is easily Nadal’s second or third best year in terms of his form. He was able to beat both of them at their prime. The biggest achievement was beating Nadal on clay and completely shattering his confidence. He owned Nadal throughout the year. He was facing stiff challenges in every tournament and nothing came easy for him. In other words, 2011 is a very tough year to dominate with the depth in quality players.
Negatives- Was he invincible against everyone? No. He looked beatable by Federer on big occasions but managed to hold the upper hand as a whole. He had a poor end to the season. He did not even get past the semifinals of any of the event he played post the US Open.
My Verdict- I have to go with Djokovic for few reasons. Though Federer’s 2006 stats look scary, the scenarios in 2006 and 2011 were completely different. In 2006, there was no proper opponent for Federer to deal with and he had it almost too easy. But he failed in the only big test which came to him i.e. defeating Nadal on clay. Nadal’s 2010 does not the match numbers of Federer’s 2006 or Djokovic’s 2011. Nadal’s performance in the first three months of that year was very ordinary which easily goes against him.
In 2011 there was so much depth and at least 3 World No. 1 quality players(Federer, Nadal and Djokovic). Dominating that type of year was really special and Djokovic did that. Then, he achieved what Federer fans wanted Federer to do- beating Nadal on clay. One thing that goes against him was his poor end to the season. But it is understandable because of the exhausting season he had and he was drained physically and mentally.
So, was it Federer’s fault that he did not have quality opponents? The strongest of his supporters will say even if he had tough opponents, Federer would have won easily since he was at his prime and 2004-07 were his invincible years. Many pundits believe that as well. My reply is that it is not Federer’s fault that he did not have stiff opposition in 2006. But in the given circumstances, I have to say Djokovic’s 2011 stand apart from Federer’s 2006 and Nadal’s 2010 purely because of the depth.
Note: This is just the comparison of the best years of their individual years and this comparison should no way be related with their careers. (2012 is not considered here because the year was not totally dominated by anyone.)