And Away We Go
January 12, 2016 — Roger Federer is recovering from some unannounced brand of the flu, which, he says, he got from one of his four kids. The press blamed the illness on his loss to Milos Raonic in the final of Brisbane, Australia, last weekend.
Serena Williams pulled out of Hopman Cup with a knee injury, way out yonder on the west coast of Australia. It was her first match of the new year.
And the reigning king on the men’s tour, Novak Djokovic, kicked off 2016 in Doha, Qatar, defeating Rafael Nadal, 6-1 6-2. Djokovic impressed the Spaniard so much he told the press that he’d never played someone as good as Novak. It was his 60th title.
Thus begins another year on the men’s and women’s pro tennis tours.
Beginning Monday, January 18, when the first slam of the year gets underway — The Australian Open — Serena better hope her annoying left knee is ship shape while Federer’s rest this week better bring him around to a level of fitness that will stand up under the hot summer temperatures of Melbourne.
Both, at 34, are aging icons. Both have lots of points to defend in 2016. Serena’s climb is a bit steeper than Federer’s, having won 3 major titles in 2015 while Federer finished as the runner-up at Wimbledon and The U. S. Open.
Meanwhile, Djokovic hasn’t missed a beat. He ended 2015 at number one for the fourth consecutive year. His win-loss record was considered better than Serena’s. The Serb also won three majors, losing the fourth in the final of Paris to an inspired Stan Wawrinka; whereas, Serena lost in the semifinal in New York. The argument of who’s 2015 was better pursued as Sports Illustrated contemplated who it would select for the illustrious cover and title of Sportsperson of the year last fall. Serena won out, we know, while Djokovic was honored as the best in tennis. At least they weren’t displaced by a horse — American Pharoah.
The insipid argument about who is the greatest player of all time hasn’t included Djokovic, for the most part. However, his case is in front of the jury. His record alone of wins over top-10 players last year is enough to propel him to the head of the class — 14-1. After winning The Australian Open, he went on to claim titles at all four Master 1000 events that lead up to The French Open. And, he ended the year with more ranking points than two additional GOAT contenders combined — Federer and Nadal.
When the Australian Open draw comes out Friday, the two same names will head the list of most likely to win it all: Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic. Yet age and the impact of decades on court will make Williams’ run more alluring. Who knows if this year will be her last? Or Federer’s last? They both will be motivated to make another appearance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It could signal a shift in their attitudes about whether to continue their lengthy careers.
While many will spotlight Federer and Serena, as the first major rolls out and the year marches on, keep your eyes on Mr. Djokovic. If Nadal’s assessment is anywhere near accurate — he could have had a bad afternoon in the Doha final — then Novak could become the inspiration for a shift in attitudes about who history will preserve as the one who stole the bluster from an ever-favorite fan favorite, Federer, and a black woman who by all measures cannot be beaten when healthy and focused.