There was a time – and it was not so long ago – when men’s tennis was dominated by just four names. The Big Four faced each other in semi-finals and finals around the globe and kept the spoils to themselves.
But as this year draws to a close it is clear that there is only one name that matters these days; from the Big Four has emerged the one and only: Novak Djokovic. His 6-3, 6-4 demolition of Roger Federer last night to win the ATP World Tour Finals earned him another $2,061,000 and brought his prize money for the year to a little over $18.7million. Add on his bonus pool pay-out for playing – and winning – at the Masters events and his on-court earnings for the year are more than $20 million. But that is only the beginning.
Yesterday’s victory was Djokovic’s fourth successive Tour Finals win, a first for the ATP Tour. It was his 11th tournament victory in 15 finals this year (another tour record) and left his stats for the year as played 88, won 82, lost six. Of those six losses, three have been down to Federer.
The most recent was just a few days ago in the round-robin phase of the Finals, a win which made the thousands of Swiss fans who fill the 02 Arena every year ever-so- slightly optimistic. And then Djokovic did what Djokovic always does in a final: he snuffed out any glimmer of hope and ground his way towards yet another trophy.
As he moves further and further ahead of the chasing pack, Djokovic is chasing records and history. When Federer started racking up the major trophies, we never thought we would see his like again – and then along came Rafael Nadal. Now the legacies of both great champions are under threat as the current world No 1 creates his own era and his own legend.
“Obviously, I’m very proud, together with my team, for the achievements this season,” the No 1 said.
“It could not have been a better finish. Obviously it has been a very long season. The best of my life and without these guys and without the support of my closest family I wouldn’t be managing to get to where I am. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment on the court.
“I cherish every moment that I play competing on such a level. When you are growing up, you are dreaming to play tennis in tournaments like this and to fight for the biggest trophies in sport.”
The reference to his family was hardly gratuitous (he does not need to earn brownie points with Mrs D) – since he became a father last October, Djokovic has won 13 trophies in 17 finals and won 90 matches. If Andy Murray claimed that “marriage works” after he won the Madrid final in May, just wait until he sees what fatherhood can do for him.
Djokovic’s win drew him level with Federer on 22 wins each in their career rivalry. The Serb has never led their head-to-head but now that he is level pegging, it only a matter of time before he leaves Federer in his wake there, too.
It was not a great match by any means – there were too many errors for that – but it was tense and fraught from the very first ball. Federer knew that if he tried to rally with Djokovic from the back of the court, he was in trouble – it would be like standing in front of a steam roller armed with no more than a winning smile.
So Federer attacked. He served and volleyed, he took his courage in both hands and sprinted netwards whenever he thought he saw a chance. And Djokovic punished him time and again.
Still, a year ago, Federer was forced to throw in the towel to Djokovic before he even stepped on court for the final. Back spasms had left him hobbling around and unable to play. At least this time he put up a decent show even if the result was inevitable.
“It’s no fun to lose but it’s better to lose than not to play at all like last year,” Federer said. “This week was great again. Fantastic year all round. Tried my best this week. Thought I played some great tennis, even in the finals. Some points were crazy. But Novak deserved the win today. Like he has so many times this year.”
The question for everyone as they head into the off-season is: how to beat the unbeatable? Djokovic is as strong as an ox, as supple as a gymnast and there is not an identifiable weakness in his game.
From the Big Four has emerged the Mighty One.