After the brilliant season Novak Djokovic had in the year 2011, there is a debate among tennis communities as to whether or not it was the greatest season ever in tennis history. It is an interesting debate and there are certainly convincing arguments both for and against. Personally, I vote against Djokovic's 2011 campaign, and I am going to compare it with the greatest tennis season I think anybody has ever played, Roger Federer's 2006. Let me compare the key numbers:
Novak Djokovic 2011: 70-6, 10 titles, 3 Grand Slams, 5 Masters 1000s
Roger Federer 2006: 92-5, 12 titles, 3 Grand Slams, 4 Masters 1000s
Record from Start of Year to Wimbledon:
Record from Wimbledon to Masters Cup:
As you can see, Federer has 22 more wins with one less loss, and two more titles, even though Djokovic has one more Masters 1000 than the Swiss Great. In both seasons, the two men swept both Indian Wells and Miami, and won in Canada. Both men won the same three Slams, the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. The one difference in their Grand Slam seasons is that Federer made the French Open final in 2006, whereas Novak famously fell in the semifinal to Roger Federer in the best match of 2011. The one big advantage Federer has is winning the Masters Cup, and doing so emphatically, not losing a match. In 2011, Djokovic went 1-2 in the group stage and failed to end his season in grand fashion. It is about as close as you can get but I firmly believe that Federer's 2006 season is better than Djokovic's 2011 season.
In 2011, Djokovic started the year 64-2, but then fell to 6-4 after the US Open and finished with a record of 70-6. When you consider what Novak could have done had he finished the year on better terms, the end result is pretty disappointing, to go 6-4. Federer, on the other hand, only lost ONE match after the French Open, to Andy Murray in Cincinnati. He won Halle, Wimbledon, Toronto, US Open, Tokyo, Madrid, Basel, and the Masters Cup. He finished the year on a 29-match winning streak, which is extraordinarily impressive considering his feats throughout the year.
Another argument I have for Federer's '06 to be better than Novak's '11 is the consistency factor. Roger played 97 matches in 2006, and yet he still finished the year on a 29-match winning streak. Djokovic, for all his incredible accomplishments in the first 9 months of 2011, struggled very much in the final few months, large in part thanks to the physical style of play and the numerous amount of long, tiring matches he played. There is no doubt that the 41-match unbeaten streak is one of the greatest achievements in all of tennis and maybe even all of sport, but that he failed the season strong hurts the season's claim to be the greatest ever. When you consider that he played only 76 matches (very little compared to 97), for him to run out of gas in September shows how truly special Federer was that year in 2006.
A good argument for Djokovic is that he went 10-1 against Federer and Nadal. That is certainly very impressive, but I feel that the argument itself insults Roger by insinuating that there was not any competition in 2006. Fed had to deal with Nadal, Roddick, Blake, Nalbandian, Davydenko, Ljubicic, and Gonzalez all in or nearing their peaks as tennis players. The fact also remains that Federer only lost to two players all year, Nadal (4 times) and Murray. Djokovic lost to Federer, Murray, Del Potro, Nishikori, Ferrer, and Tipsarevic. Of course, the 6 consecutive wins over Nadal is absolutely outstanding and the tennis he was playing was some of the most elite we have ever seen. But that doesn't change that he trailed off emphatically at the end of the year. Not to mention that Novak retired twice and withdrew before his QF match vs Tsonga in Paris, and because of this there is no question that Federer's year was much more aesthetically impressive.
I also want to bring up this misconception that Federer dominated the tour with ease. He faced some of the toughest matches in his career in 2006. In the Australian Open, he withstood a 5-setter vs Haas and then three four-setters against Davydenko, Kiefer, and Baghdatis to win the title. Coupled with that, he was still not 100% fit after the ankle injury he sustained at the end of 2005. He also faced some very tough competition in Toronto, going the distance with Tursunov, Malisse, Gonzalez, and Gasquet. Even in Basel he came through in one of the toughest matches of his career against Paradorn Srichapan, winning in a third set tiebreak (and remember, Fed had never won Basel before so the pressure was immense). Even after that, he saved match points against Andy Roddick in the Masters Cup Round Robin before eventually prevailing. So, as you can see, Federer played his most beautiful and dominant tennis in 2006, but also some of his strongest mental tennis as well.
I understand that the debate will rage on for many years to come in the argument "Roger Federer 2006 or Novak Djokovic 2011?" I wrote this piece to state my case for Federer. Agree, disagree, I don't really care, because it is my opinion. The Federer of 2006 is the greatest tennis player ever, and that also sways into my decision. Overall, the elite level of play, the 48-1 record to finish the season, and the poor finish to the season by Djokovic leads me to hold Federer's 2006 season ahead of the Djokovic 2011 season.
I hope you enjoyed this piece and I cannot wait for the 2012 tennis season to start!