Despite a tough loss to Andy Murray at the 2013 Wimbledon final, Novak Djokovic remains the top-ranked player in the world, as well as the man to beat in what many claim to be a modern Golden Age of men’s tennis. Djokovic has reached the pinnacle of the sport, and although he may never see another season like his 2011 campaign (in which he won three of four Grand Slam tournaments), the 26-year-old still holds the throne and has an opportunity to dominate the competition like he did that season. Here’s a look back at the most significant moments that have brought Djokovic to this point in his pro career.
2005 Australian Open, First GS Appearance
Djokovic qualified for his first Grand Slam when he was just 17 years old, having gone pro two years earlier. The kid went up against seasoned veteran Marat Safin in the first round and lost badly to the tournament’s eventual champion in straight sets, 0–6, 2–6, 1–6. Despite his tough start, Djokovic bounced back to reach the third rounds of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open later that year, and made it all the way to the quarterfinal of the 2006 French Open.Overnight Expert: Master the Tennis Serve >>>
2006 Dutch Open Win
The year after his first run of Grand Slam appearances, Djokovic continued to make his hard-to-spell name recognizable when he took home his first ATP title at the 32-man Dutch Open. He never lost a set during his run to the trophy, although his final with Nicolas Massu was hard-fought, ending in a 7–6 (7–5), 6–4 decision. Having just turned 19 a couple months earlier, the win was another sign of Novak’s potential on the pro circuit.
Reaching the 2007 U.S. Open Final
Another year, another milestone. Continuing his quick climb up the rankings, Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open in 2007. He had already snagged the No. 3 spot behind Rafael Nadal after a run of impressive performances that included semifinal appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon. Djokovic reached the U.S. Open final with surprising ease, taking down Carlos Moya and David Ferrer without losing a set in the quarters and semis. The fun came to an end against Roger Federer, who won the final 7–6 (7–4), 7–6 (7–2), 6–4 to take his 12th career Slam, and his fourth straight U.S. Open.The Language of Love: Must-Know Tennis Lingo >>>
2008 Australian Open Win
Djokovic experienced a personal breakthrough and became the first Serbian player to win a Grand Slam singles title when he beat out the feisty Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 7–6 (7–2). Perhaps more notable about Djokovic’s tournament performance was his run to the final, in which he didn’t lose a single set—including a convincing semifinal win over Federer. It seemed like Djokovic was ready to upend the Federer-Nadal rivalry that was dominating the sport at the time.
The Three-Year Drought
As it turned out, it wasn’t quite time for Djokovic’s reign. Sure, he stayed near the top of the game, won ATP tournaments, and always hung around as a contender at Slams. But there was a clear regression from his incredible run of success as a 20-year-old (two semis, a final, and a championship in four straight Slams from 2007–2008). In the 11 Grand Slam tournaments he played over the rest of 2008 and through the end of 2010, Djokovic wasn’t able to come away with a single GS title. He appeared in one final during the drought, losing to Nadal at the 2010 U.S. Open 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 2–6.
Djokovic Changes Diet
At such a high level, small changes in diet and lifestyle can tip the balance to one competitor over the others. A Serbian doctor examined Djokovic in the summer of 2010 and told him he was sensitive to gluten and dairy. From then on, Djokovic changed his diet significantly. As he cleaned up his meals and avoided empty calories, what was once the weakest part of his tennis preparation became another strength. His run to the 2010 U.S. Open final made it clear the change was already starting to take effect.
2011 Australian Open Win
Djokovic’s long-awaited return to the top of the heap came in early 2011 at the Australian Open, three years after grabbing his first Slam victory at the same tournament. Djokovic was simply unstoppable in this one, losing just one set (in the second round) during his seven-match run to the title. He put an exclamation point on the achievement with dominant wins over world-class opponents like Tomas Berdych (No. 6, quarters), Federer (No. 2, semis), and Murray (No. 5, final). The final was particularly lopsided, as Djokovic came out on top 6–4, 6–2, 6–3.
Ascending to the No. 1 Spot
By the summer of 2011, it was clear that Djokovic was having a season for the ages. Most of the competition didn’t stand a chance, and even his Big Four adversaries (Federer, Nadal, and Murray) had a hard time keeping pace with him. In fact, Djokovic had a perfect season and 43-match win streak going all the way until June, when he lost to Rafa in the French Open semifinals. He bounced right back from the defeat by going deep into Wimbledon the next month. Djokovic officially snagged the top spot by toughing out Tsonga at the Wimbledon semifinal, 7–6, (7–4), 6–2, 6–7 (9-11), 6–3.
2011 Wimbledon Win
Djokovic validated his No. 1 ranking just two days after taking it away from Nadal, defeating him at the Wimbledon final 6–4, 6–1, 1–6, 6–3. Novak was relentless against the defending Wimbledon champ, who many still favored in the match. Things started even, but a Djokovic break to make it 5–4 in the first set changed the nature of the match, and likely reminded Rafa of the four defeats he had already suffered at Novak’s hands that year.
2013 Australian Open Win
As of July 2013, this year’s Australian Open stands as Djokovic’s last Grand Slam title. He also made appearances in last year’s U.S. Open final and this year’s Wimbledon final (both losses to an ever-improving Murray), but the Australian heat is where he’s proven his dominance the past three years running (with four titles in total). Interestingly enough, Djokovic was nearly dispatched in the Round of 16 of the tourney, barely escaping with a win over dark horse Stanislas Wawrinka (No. 15) 1–6, 7–5, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 12–10. But Djokovic eventually defeated Murray in the final 6–7 (2–7), 7–6 (7–3), 6–3, 6–2 to grab his sixth Grand Slam victory.