Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-4 thrashing in the ATP World Tour Finals over top-ranked Rafael Nadal was impressive, but nothing spectacular in and of itself. Were it not for it being the last event of the calendar season, it’d be nothing more than a two-set victory for one of the world’s top two players.
The victory for second-ranked Djokovic still leaves him trailing Nadal in basically every single 2013 accomplishment. Nadal is #1, and put together one of the most impressive seasons any tennis player has put together in quite some time. Over the course of the season, Nadal stole the rank of #1 from Djokovic — and he held onto it despite Djokovic’s win in London Monday. Nadal won two Grand Slam titles; Djokovic, one.
But Djokovic’s victory does mean something. If Nadal had won, there would have been no question over the winter heading into 2014 as to who was far and away the world’s best tennis player. Nadal simply dominated in 2013 and could have put the finishing touch on dropping Djokovic to a distant number-two ranking. But now they’re a bit closer.
The two faced off six times in 2013, splitting those matches evenly. Djokovic won the first, proving he was ready to hold onto the top spot, but then Nadal won three straight against Djokovic — two of which were for Grand Slam titles (the French Open and the U.S. Open). After Nadal cruised through the middle and second half of the calendar, it was evident that Djokovic wasn’t up for the challenge. But in October, Djokovic beat Nadal in the ATP China Open by the same set numbers he beat Nadal this week, 6-3, 6-4. While the ATP China Open and the WTF in London this week are no Grand Slams, both competitors knew what was on the line.
With those two victories for Djokovic, 2014 is now set up to be a repeat of 2013. No one can really say one is clearly the better player. If Djokovic begins 2014 like he did 2013, with 17 straight match wins and a win at the Australian Open, the pressure will be on Nadal.
What has been lost in the shuffle is that Nadal didn’t begin his season until February recovering from major knee surgery. Perhaps you can put an asterisk next to Djokovic’s Australian Open victory for not having had to go through Nadal. Add that to the list of what to look forward to next year — both players should be healthy.
The first Grand Slam of 2014 is just two months away, and with how 2013 finished — you can bet with certainty it will showcase the world’s number-one and number-two players.