Novak Djokovic's 5 toughest Grand Slam title runs

Novak Djokovic poses with his Wimbledon 2021 title.
Novak Djokovic poses with his Wimbledon 2021 title.

Novak Djokovic beat Matteo Berrettini in a four-set final at Wimbledon 2021 for his 20th Grand Slam singles title. The Serb has thus etched his name in tennis immortality, joining Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal atop the all-time Major leaderboard.

Novak Djokovic is well-known for playing his best tennis under pressure, and that too on the biggest of occasions. He saved championship points against Roger Federer at Wimbledon 2019 and downed 13-time winner Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2021 to underline his never-say-die mentality.

Djokovic uses his otherworldly athleticism, supreme fitness, world-class returning prowess and effective all-court game to regularly outplay even the best players in the world. But how often has he outplayed a series of high-ranked opponents at a single Slam?

The average ranking of opponents that the Serb has beaten during each of his victorious Slam runs would give us a fair idea of that. So without further ado, here's a look at Novak Djokovic's five toughest Grand Slam triumphs based on the strength of opposition he faced:

#5 US Open 2015 (Average Opponent Ranking: 32)

Novak Djokovic won his second title at the US Open in 2015.
Novak Djokovic won his second title at the US Open in 2015.

Novak Djokovic's 2015 is one of the best seasons ever seen in tennis. The Serb racked up 11 titles and 82 wins out of 88 matches that year, and reached the final at all four Majors.

Djokovic dropped only 10 games in the first two rounds of the 2015 US Open, beating the 91st-ranked Joao Sousa and world no. 52 Andreas Haider Maurer in straight sets. Although Andreas Seppi, then ranked 25 in the world, provided sterner resistance, the then-28-year-old registered another straight-sets win to move into the fourth round.

World no. 23 Roberto Bautista Agut took a set off Novak Djokovic, but was powerless to stop him from reaching his ninth consecutive US Open quarterfinal. The then 19th-ranked Feliciano Lopez met the same fate as his compatriot Bautista Agut, as he could take only one set off Djokovic.

The Serb then produced arguably his best performance of the tournament, flooring defending champion and World No. 9 Marin Cilic in the semis while dropping only three games.

In the final Djokovic went up against the third-ranked Federer, just weeks after they had met in the Wimbledon summit clash. And the outcome was no different.

It was the Serb who started strong, pocketing the opener. Federer hit back by taking the second, but he squandered a bunch of break points in the pivotal ninth game of the third as Djokovic took a two-sets-to-one lead.

The Serb served for a 10th Grand Slam title, up two breaks at 5-2 in the fourth, but Federer recouped one of the breaks. The Swiss then saw three break points come and go as Djokovic served out victory at the second time of asking.

Djokovic saved a whopping 19 of 23 breaking points in the match to draw level at 21-21 in his head-to-head with Federer. The Serb said after his win:

"It's been an incredible season, next to 2011 the best of my life. I'm enjoying this year more than I did any previous one because I'm a husband and a father, and that makes it sweeter."

#4 Wimbledon 2014 (Average Opponent Ranking: 29)

Novak Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title in 2014.
Novak Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title in 2014.

Novak Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon 2014 without a Grand Slam title to his name for the year. He was beaten by eventual winner Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open quarterfinal, and by Rafael Nadal in a four-set Roland Garros final.

Djokovic opened his campaign for a second title at Wimbledon with a straight-sets victory over World No. 56 Andrey Golubev. Radek Stepanek then took a set off Djokovic, but the 38th-ranked Czech ended up losing in a fourth-set tiebreak.

The Serb then registered consecutive straight-sets wins over Frenchmen Gilles Simon (World No. 44) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (World No. 17) to book a quarterfinal date with the 29th-ranked Marin Cilic. In a thriller of a match, Djokovic recovered from a two-sets-to-one deficit to down the Croat in five sets.

The Serb faced another stern test in the semis, against the 13th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov. But Djokovic prevailed in a fourth-set tiebreak, after saving multiple set points, to set up a title clash with then seven-time champion Roger Federer.

Djokovic dropped a tight opening set in a tiebreak, but he recovered soon enough. He took the third set in another tiebreak to move to within one set of the title.

But the Serb squandered a 5-2 lead in the fourth, failing to serve out victory and even squandering a match point. Federer, the then World No. 4, took the set 7-5 to force a decider - much to the delight of a capacity Centre Court crowd.

Djokovic, however, quickly regrouped from the setback. After the first nine games went to the server, the Serb broke Federer for the only time in the set to seal his second Wimbledon title.

The Serb said after the match:

"After losing the fourth set it wasn't easy to go on and win the fifth set, I don't know how I did it. This is the best tournament in the world and the one I always wanted to win so to be able to compete at such a high level I am so grateful."

#3 Wimbledon 2015 (Average Opponent Ranking: 28)

Novak Djokovic (left) beat Roger Federer in a second straight Wimbledon final in 2015.
Novak Djokovic (left) beat Roger Federer in a second straight Wimbledon final in 2015.

Novak Djokovic played arguably the best tennis of his career in 2015, racking up records galore.

The dominant World No. 1 was virtually unbeatable all year and he arrived at Wimbledon having lost only three times in 44 matches. Despite a surprise defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final, Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite for a third title at SW19.

The defending champion kick-started his campaign with a trio of straight-sets wins. He beat #33 Philipp Kohlschreiber, 92nd-ranked Jarkko Nieminen and 22nd-ranked Bernard Tomic convincingly to storm into the second week.

However, it was the 14th-ranked Kevin Anderson who would provide Djokovic his sternest test of the fortnight. The South African took the opening two sets on tiebreaks to assume control of the match.

But Djokovic brought his warrior mentality to the fore once again, dropping only five games in the next two sets to force a decider - which he won 7-5. That earned him a quarterfinal date with World No. 9 Marin Cilic, whom he beat in straight sets to move into the last four.

Another straight-set win, this time against the 20th-ranked Richard Gasquet, put the Serb into a fourth Wimbledon final. There, a familiar foe - Roger Federer - lay in wait.

It was the Swiss, then ranked World No. 2, who started stronger, drawing first blood to lead 4-2. But his failure to hold serve (for only the second time all tournament) saw the set go to a tiebreak, which Djokovic clinched for the loss of just one point.

In a tighter second set, both players held serve as another tiebreak ensued. Djokovic capitalized on a bunch of Federer errors to arrive at three consecutive set points, but he let all three opportunities and another three go begging. Federer eventually restored parity by taking a titanic tiebreak 12-10.

Once again, undeterred by the setback, Djokovic pounced on a dip in level from Federer to grab an early break in the third. That was all he needed; the Serb took the pivotal third set fairly comfortably to grab control of the match.

The only break of the fourth set arrived in the fifth game of the set. Federer, seemingly out of fuel, ended up falling short in a Wimbledon final for the third time in his career.

A dignified Federer, graceful in defeat, said in the post-match ceremony:

"I had my chances in the first set. I got lucky to win the second, had chances in the third. But he was better on the bigger points. He was rock solid, I didn't play badly myself. That's how it goes."

#2 Australian Open 2013 (Average Opponent Ranking: 27)

Novak Djokovic hoists aloft the 2013 Australian Open title.
Novak Djokovic hoists aloft the 2013 Australian Open title.

Novak Djokovic's triumph at the 2013 Australian Open might be a surprise entry in this list, as the Serb has arguably had 'better' and more emphatic Grand Slam wins. But Djokovic beat three top-10 opponents at the tournament and didn't meet anyone lower than World No. 62 all fortnight, showing how tough a draw he had.

Djokovic opened his 2013 season at the Australian Open, where he launched his title defence with a trio of straight-set victories. He beat the 60th-ranked Paul-Henri Mathieu, 62nd-ranked Ryan Harrison and 34th-ranked Radek Stepanek with ease to cruise into the second week.

The then 17th-ranked Stan Wawrinka, who would make his Grand Slam breakthrough at the Australian Open a year later, started like a house on fire in the fourth round. Wawrinka dropped just one game in the opener and led by a break in the second, but Djokovic fought back to draw parity.

The Serb then took the third set in a tiebreak, but Wawrinka was going nowhere. The Swiss clinched the fourth set 7-5 in a breaker to force a titanic fifth set, where Djokovic prevailed 12-10 to move into the last eight.

The defending champion then overcame World No. 6 Tomas Berdych in four sets and the fifth-ranked David Ferrer for the loss of just five games to book a final date with Andy Murray.

In a rematch of the pair's 2011 final, it was the third-ranked Scot who pocketed the opener in a tiebreak. But Djokovic then recovered from 0-40 at the start of the second before taking the set in a tiebreak.

He went on to capitalize on Murray's dip in level, dropping only five games in the next two sets to cruise past the finish line. In the process, Djokovic became the first male player in the Open Era to do a three-peat at the Australian Open.

The Serb said after the win:

"It's an incredible feeling winning this trophy again. It's definitely my favourite Grand Slam, my most successful Grand Slam. I love this court."

Those words would turn out to be prophetic. Melbourne has indeed been the favourite hunting ground for the Serb, who is 9-0 in Australian Open finals and also the most successful male player in the tournament's history.

#1 Australian Open 2011 (Average Opponent Ranking: 25)

Novak Djokovic became a multiple Grand Slam champion at the 2011 Australian Open
Novak Djokovic became a multiple Grand Slam champion at the 2011 Australian Open

Novak Djokovic endured the longest Slam drought of his legendary career before he won his second Major title - and second at the Australian Open - at the 2011 edition of the tournament.

As it turns out 10 years later, that remains one of Djokovic's most emphatic Grand Slam runs ever. Not only did he have the lowest average ranking of opponents at the 2011 Australian Open, but he also showcased unreal dominance during the fortnight, dropping only one set throughout.

The then 23-year-old opened his campaign by beating the 42nd-ranked Marcel Granollers for the loss of just five games. World no. 82 Ivan Dodig, the lowest-ranked player Djokovic faced that fortnight, then took the only set the Serb would drop at the tournament that year. But normal service soon resumed as Djokovic dropped just two games in the remainder of the match.

The Serb's third-round clash against compatriot Viktor Troicki in the next round proved to be short-lived, as the World No. 27 retired after dropping the first set 6-2.

In the fourth round, Djokovic dropped just seven games against World No. 14 Nicolas Almagro. He then breadsticked the sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych in the first and third sets of the quarterfinal, sandwiched by a tiebreaker which he won 7-5.

That helped the Serb book a semifinal rematch with Roger Federer. But just like in the 2008 semifinal between the pair, Djokovic registered another straight-sets win to move into his third Grand Slam final.

The Serb then thwarted the fifth-ranked Andy Murray for the loss of just games to end his three-year Grand Slam title drought. He said after the win:

"I want to congratulate Andy for a great two weeks; it was really difficult to play against you tonight. Hopefully, you will have another chance to win a Grand Slam trophy, and with your talent, I'm sure you will."

Djokovic would go on to win the Wimbledon and US Open titles that year, too, firmly establishing his arrival on the Grand Slam scene.

Going by the same yardstick of average ranking of opponents beaten, Novak Djokovic's five 'easiest' title runs (in descending order) have been as follows:

#5 US Open 2011 (average opponent ranking: 51)

#4 Roland Garros 2016 (average opponent ranking: 52

#3 Australian Open 2019 (average opponent ranking: 71)

#2 Wimbledon 2021 (average opponent ranking: 80)

#1 Australian Open 2012 (average opponent ranking: 94).

If the median ranking of opponents (as opposed to the average) is taken into consideration, there will be a few changes. While his triumph at Australian Open 2011 will remain at the top, Australian Open 2013 and Wimbledon 2015 would slip down two rungs each. And Wimbledon 2014 and US Open 2015 will drop out of the top five altogether.

The five best triumphs, in this case, would be:

#5 Wimbledon 2015 (median opponent ranking: 20)

#4 Australian Open 2013 (median opponent ranking: 17)

#3 Roland Garros 2016 (median opponent ranking: 16)

#2 Australian Open 2016 (median opponent ranking: 15)

#1 Australian Open 2011 (median opponent ranking: 14).

Using the same yardstick for determining his 'easiest' wins, Australian Open 2012 again comes out on top. Wimbledon 2021 drops down a place to third, while three other wins come into the top 5.

The five easiest triumphs, in terms of median ranking of opponent beaten, are:

#5 US Open 2018 (median opponent ranking: 41)

#4 Wimbledon 2019 (median opponent ranking: 48)

#3 Wimbledon 2021 (median opponent ranking: 48)

#2 Roland Garros 2021 (median opponent ranking: 66)

#1 Australian Open 2012 (median opponent ranking: 81).

The average ranking of all opponents Novak Djokovic has beaten during his 20 Grand Slam wins is 46, while the median ranking is 33. But if we consider the average ranking of opponents Djokovic has faced in the last three rounds during his 20 triumphant Major runs, his five toughest Grand Slam triumphs would be:

#5 Australian Open 2015 (average opponent ranking: 6)

#4 Australian Open 2013 (average opponent ranking: 5)

#3 Australian Open: 2016 (average opponent ranking: 4)

#2 Australian Open 2012 (average opponent ranking: 4)

#1 Australian Open 2011 (average opponent ranking: 4).

And finally, his five easiest triumphs in such a case would be:

#5 Wimbledon 2019 (average opponent ranking: 16)

#4 Wimbledon 2021 (average opponent ranking: 23)

#3 US Open 2018 (average opponent ranking: 26)

#2 Australian Open 2021 (average opponent ranking: 41)

#1 Wimbledon 2011 (average opponent ranking: 59)

Edited by Musab Abid


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