Djokovic and Federer start unusual trend of dominance with eerie parallels

Novak Djokovic’s 2023 season officially came to an end last weekend when Serbia were knocked out in the semi-final of the Davis Cup. The world No 1 has been the most dominant player of the year despite turning 36. And his season has shown eerie parallels to Roger Federer’s dominant run in 2017, also the year he celebrated his 36th birthday.

Although Djokovic’s season ended with defeat at the Davis Cup, it was still arguably one of the best of his career. For the third time, the Serb won three of the four Majors in a single year. It allowed him to make history as the first player in the Open Era to reach 24 overall Grand Slam titles.

He also picked up four other titles on the tour and only lost seven matches all year. Already an impressive feat in itself, Djokovic’s superiority has been even more significant given that he is almost a decade older than any other player in the world’s top 10.

But it’s not the first time that one of the sport’s best players has enjoyed one of their best years while turning 36, as Federer’s famous comeback season came in 2017. And his run was almost identical to that of Djokovic this year.

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Both men won seven titles in the season in question. Djokovic picked up three Majors at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open, won the Cincinnati and Paris Masters 1000s, lifted the title at the ATP Finals and started the year with an ATP 250 triumph in Adelaide.  

In comparison, Federer won two Grand Slams – the Australian Open and Wimbledon – three Masters 1000s in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai, and two ATP 500s in Halle and Basel. Both men also surpassed 50 match wins and barely lost all season.

Djokovic ended the year with a 56-7 record, losing to Jannik Sinner twice while also suffering defeats to Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune, Lorenzo Musetti, Dusan Lajovic and Daniil Medvedev. Meanwhile, Federer went 54-5 in his matches six years ago though, unlike Djokovic, he didn’t end the year with the Davis Cup to add to his tally.

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The 20-time Major winner’s losses came to David Goffin, Juan Martin del Potro, Alexander Zverev, Tommy Haas and Evgeny Donskoy. However, Federer finished 2017 as the world No 2 – in part because he decided to skip the entire clay season and therefore played less – while Djokovic clinched the year-end No 1 ranking in 2023.

The year of turning 36 also worked its magic for their Big Three rival Rafael Nadal last year – before the Spaniard injured his abdomen at Wimbledon. Nadal started 2022 on a 20-match winning streak which spanned titles at the Melbourne ATP 250, the Australian Open and the Acapulco ATP 500.

He then dealt with some foot injury troubles before storming back at the French Open to lift the title which marked his 22nd Major crown. Nadal celebrated his 36th birthday during the clay-court Grand Slam. But more physical issues derailed the rest of his season and Nadal has barely played since.

The reign of dominance shown by each of the Big Three during the year they turned 36 could spell bad news for the likes of Alcaraz and Sinner, who still have to wait more than a decade until they can attempt to follow in Djokovic and Federer’s footsteps. But it could also help them if Djokovic is unable to keep up the same level of supremacy in 2024, giving his younger rivals a better chance at winning the biggest titles.

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