In the late 2000s and the early 2010s, the world of tennis was ruled by two behemoths – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Almost every Grand Slam trophy in this period was claimed by one of the two. While Federer ruled the grass tennis courts of Wimbledon, Nadal cemented his position as the undisputed king of the clay tennis court at Roland Garros. And then came Novak Djokovic, a young tennis player from Serbia who put a period on the legendary duo’s dominance, and who would eventually go on to shatter several professional tennis records, be it in terms of rankings or title wins.
As the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s iconic The Dark Knight famously said, “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.” Around the time of the movie’s release (2008), the ‘Djoker’ (Novak Djokovic’s nickname) of the world of tennis won his first Grand Slam, marking his arrival as a significant threat to the legacies of both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Today, Novak Djokovic is a legend in the world of sports. He is a part of the holy trinity of modern-day men’s tennis, alongside Federer and Nadal. The three behemoths of tennis are also the only three men in the world to have won more than 20 Grand Slams.
As Novak Djokovic continues his quest for a record-equaling eighth title at the Wimbledon Open 2023, we take a look at his career highlights, stats, ranking and his fabled rivalries.
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A look a Novak Djokovic’s tennis career highlights
Novak Djokovic’s entry into the world of professional tennis
Novak Djokovic became a professional tennis player in 2003 by entering the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour. He majorly used to play in the Futures and Challengers tournaments for the first couple of years of his professional career. His first Grand Slam tournament appearance happened at the 2005 Australian Open, where he was defeated by eventual champion Marat Safin of Russia.
In 2006, Novak Djokovic made his first quarter-final appearance at a Grand Slam tournament in the French Open. By virtue of his performance, he broke into the top 40 of the ATP World Men’s Singles rankings for the first time in his career. Later that year, Djokovic won his first ATP title at the Dutch Open in Amersfoort, defeating Nicolas Massu in the final. He backed up his maiden title win with another title, this time at the Moselle Open in Metz, France and moved into the top 20 of the world rankings.
Novak Djokovic displayed impressive performances at the 2007 ATP Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami, winning the latter. As a result, he entered the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time. He continued his excellent run of form in the Grand Slams as well, reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at the 2007 French Open where he lost to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. The Serbian did not have luck on his side at the Wimbledon Open that year, as he had to retire from the semi-final against Nadal owing to an elbow injury.
In the 2007 Canadian Open in Montreal, Novak Djokovic defeated the then-world number 3 Andy Roddick in the quarter-final, the then-world number 2 Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, and the then-world number 1 Roger Federer in the final to clinch the title. Djokovic set the record of becoming the first player to defeat the top three ranked players in a single tournament since Boris Becker in 1994. He was also the second person after Czech tennis player Tomas Berdych to defeat both Federer and Nadal since the two had reached the summit of the world rankings. Djokovic reached the first Grand Slam final of his career at the 2007 US Open where he ended up losing to Federer.
His rise as one of the best players in the world
At the 2008 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic reached his second consecutive Grand Slam final, becoming the youngest player in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals in all four Grand Slams. Djokovic defeated Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to clinch his first Grand Slam title and become the first player apart from Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to win a Grand Slam singles event since the 2005 Australian Open.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Novak Djokovic clinched his first bronze medal after losing in the semi-final to Nadal. Djokovic ended 2008 on a high, winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, defeating Nikolay Davydenko in the final. It was also his first title at the year-end championship.
2009 saw Novak Djokovic reach ten major championship finals and win five of them, namely the Dubai Championships, the Serbia Open, the China Open, the Swiss Indoors and the Paris Masters. He ended the year at the third spot in the world rankings for the third year in a row.
Novak Djokovic came tantalisingly close to winning his second Grand Slam at the 2010 US Open but ended up losing to Rafael Nadal in the final. However, later that year, he helped Serbia win the Davis Cup Championship for the first time in the nation’s history as they defeated France in the final at Belgrade.
Becoming one of the greatest players of all time
If 2009 and 2010 were relatively barren for him in terms of Grand Slam wins, 2011 saw Novak Djokovic enjoy one of the best seasons in the history of the game. The Serbian won three Grand Slam titles in 2011, namely the Australian Open, the Wimbledon Open and the US Open. He enjoyed a 41-match winning streak that year and ended it with a record 70 wins and a mere six losses. Novak Djokovic also reached the summit of the world rankings for the first time in his career and was adjudged the 2011 International Tennis Federation World Champion.
In the next three years, Novak Djokovic won ten Masters titles and three Grand Slams and was a regular visitor to the top of the world rankings. In 2015, he enjoyed yet another dream run as he won the Australian Open, the Wimbledon Open and the US Open. He also reached the finals of the French Open that year, becoming the third man in the history of tennis to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a calendar year. Djokovic created a season record of reaching 15 consecutive finals, making it to the championship match of every tournament that he participated in, and winning 11 of them. He also set a record for most points accumulated in a season as the top-ranked player in the world with 16,585 ATP points.
2016 saw Novak Djokovic achieve more historic feats. At the start of the year, he won the Australian Open for a record-equaling sixth time. Later in the year, Djokovic added the French Open to his trophy cabinet, winning it for the first time after defeating British player Andy Murray in the final. With this win, he also became the reigning champion of all four Grand Slams, a feat that was known as the ‘Nole Slam’. Djokovic became the eighth player in the history of tennis to achieve a Career Grand Slam (winning all four Grand Slams), and the third player to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time after Don Budge and Rod Laver.
In 2018, Novak Djokovic became the first and only player to date to complete the Career Golden Masters (winning all nine ATP Masters events) when he won the Cincinnati Masters title by defeating Roger Federer in the final. Djokovic also set the record for most Australian Open men’s singles titles when he won his seventh title in 2019 against Rafael Nadal.
In 2023, Novak Djokovic broke German legend Steffi Graff’s record of 377 weeks at the pole position of the world rankings. He also broke the record for most Grand Slam wins by a player in men’s singles events, previously held by Rafael Nadal (22 Grand Slam wins). Djokovic also became the first man in the history of tennis to win three Career Grand Slams when he won the French Open in 2023 against Norwegian tennis player Casper Ruud.
Novak Djokovic’s career stats
To sum up the historic achievements of Novak Djokovic, the Serbian has won a record 23 Grand Slam titles in his career. He has won the Australian Open for a record ten times, the Wimbledon Open seven times, and three titles each at the French Open and the US Open. Djokovic also holds the record for spending the maximum time at the top of the world rankings in both men’s and women’s tennis with 378 weeks at the summit. At present, Djokovic is ranked second in the men’s world rankings, trailing only Carlos Alcaraz at the pole position.
The coaches Djokovic has played under
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Novak Djokovic had former German tennis player Boris Becker as his coach for three years before parting ways with him in 2017. After Becker, he appointed Andre Agassi, another tennis legend, as his coach, but their partnership met with an unfortunate end in less than a year as both parties claimed that there was a lack of mutual understanding.
At present, former Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic is Novak Djokovic’s coach.
Novak Djokovic’s historic rivalries
In 20 years of professional tennis, Novak Djokovic has enjoyed some brilliant rivalries against his counterparts who are legends of the sport themselves. A few of his top-tier opponents include the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka.
The Djokovic vs Nadal rivalry
Statistically the most prolific rivalry in men’s tennis in the Open Era, the Spanish tennis player is second only to Novak Djokovic in terms of most Grand Slams (Nadal has 22). Rafael Nadal is also the only player in the history of tennis to win 14 French Open men’s singles titles. Not just that, his tally of 14 wins at the Roland Garros is the most by any player in a single Grand Slam.
The duo has faced each other 59 times in their careers. Novak Djokovic holds the advantage with 30 wins against Nadal, though the Spaniard is close behind, having won 29 times against the Serbian. Djokovic is also the only player to have beaten Nadal in all Grand Slams.
Fun fact: The two contested against each other in the longest Grand Slam final match ever played at the 2012 Australian Open (the match lasted for 5 hours and 53 minutes). Their most recent match-up was at the 2022 French Open quarter-final, which Nadal won.
The Djokovic vs Federer rivalry
Arguably one of the greatest rivalries in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic and Swiss maestro Roger Federer have faced each other 50 times, with the Serbian winning 27 of those meetings. Djokovic also holds an advantage in the finals of major tournaments, winning 13 times against Federer, who has six victories against the Serbian in title clashes. The last final that the duo played in was at the 2019 Wimbledon Open, where Djokovic defeated Federer in the longest final in Wimbledon Open’s history.
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(Main and Featured Images Credits: Courtesy Instagram/@Novak Djokovic)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: As of July 2023, Novak Djokovic is ranked second in the ATP World Men's rankings.
Answer: In 59 matches against Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic has won on 30 occasions.
Answer: Novak Djokovic won the French Open 2023 on June 11, 2023.
Answer: At present, former Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic is Novak Djokovic's coach.