Novak Djokovic and an almost perfect 2021

If perfection exists, Novak Djokovic was about to fulfill it. With three Grand Slam tournaments in his pocket, a finalist in another and a semi-finalist in the Olympic Games, the Serbian almost signed something that even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could not achieve.

But let’s start from the beginning. In February, the season for the world number one began in Melbourne. There he played two matches for Serbia in the ATP Cup with a balance of 100% effectiveness: victories against Denis Shapovalov (Canada) and Alexander Zverev (Germany). Despite their good performance, the Balkans did not pass the group stage and Russia won the tournament.

From there, without leaving the Australian city, he went straight to the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. Djokovic entered the contest as a great favorite and, despite some shock against Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Zverev, the Serbian reached the final. In the decisive match, he swept Daniil Medvedev in straight sets 7-5, 6-2 and 6-2 and got his first major of the season in addition to his ninth Australian Open.

And from Oceania he went to Europe. But despite the good level he had been showing, he was eliminated in the Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 (eighth against Daniel Evans), Belgrade ATP 250 (semis against Aslan Karatsev) and Rome Masters 1000 (runner-up against Nadal). With those results in his pocket, the Serbian arrived in Paris at the beginning of June to play Roland Garros.

In the French lands in which Nadal was looking for his 14th tournament on brick dust and arrived as the top candidate, Djokovic was present to surprise and break the hegemony of the Spanish. Between the first round and the round of 16 inclusive, the Balkan got rid of players Below the Top 60. Only after the quarterfinals, the heavyweights appeared.

The first victim was Matteo Berrettini. The Italian, although he forced a fourth set, fell 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5) and 7-5. And in the semifinals the match of the contest would come: Nadal-Djokovic. There, to the surprise of locals and strangers, the Manacori could not overcome the Serbian and he entered the grand final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Against the Greek he started two sets down but he knew how to recover mentally and turned the match around. Thanks to that victory, he won his second Grand Slam tournament of the year and the second Musketeers’ Cup of his career.

As if the achievement were not enough, Djokovic arrived a few weeks later in London to play Wimbledon and again, without any shocks, he conquered the third major 2021. The victim of the final? The Italian Berrettini by 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4 and 6-3 to obtain his 20th Grand Slam tournament and equal the record of Nadal and Federer. At that point in the season, the Serbian was just one tournament away from matching what Rod Laver did in 1969 (completing the Grand Slam calendar) and two from achieving the Golden Slam, that is, adding the gold medal of the Olympic Games. to the four most important tournaments of the year. It had only been conquered by Steffi Graf in 1988.

But the perfection he had achieved in the first half of the year began to fade in Tokyo. While his ride through the Olympics was flawless until the semi-finals, in that same round Zverev put an end to the golden dream. With a score of 1-6, 6-3 and 6-1, the German eliminated Djokovic and later won the medal for first place.

Without the possibility of being the first male tennis player to achieve the Golden Slam, the goal was to relive Laver’s feat half a century later. New York was the last stop and in it, the number one in the world had a more irregular level than in the other competitions. In four meetings he had to define in four sets (Holger Rune, Kei Nishikori, Jenson Brooksby and Matteo Berrettini) and against Zverev in the semis he defined in five sets. In the final, Medvedev was intractable, beating Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, winning his first Grand Slam tournament and depriving Djokovic of an impressive record.

In November the Serbian took revenge on the Russian. He participated in the Masters 1000 in Paris and beat it in the final 4-6, 6-3 and 6-3. That trophy, which positioned him as the player with the most tournaments in this category in the history of tennis, beating Nadal (37 against 36), also assured him to finish the year again as number one in the world. This was a new record in his career, beating the one that Pete Sampras had (with 6 years finished in the first position of the ranking) and becoming the player with the most years (7) finished as No. 1.

The season finale was between Italy, Austria and Spain. In the city of Turin he played the ATP Finals, a tournament in which he was a semifinalist after losing against Zverev. And in Innsbruck and Madrid he played the Davis Cup with Serbia. Its performance? Four singles and one doubles won and two doubles lost. His executioner was Croatia in the semifinals.

With a balance of three Grand Slam tournaments won, several records obtained and the near conquest of the Golden Slam and the Grand Slam calendar, Novak Djokovic’s 2021 was very close to being perfect.