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TENNIS.com’s 2020 ATP Player of the Year: Novak Djokovic
The 33-year-old won his 17th major plus three more titles, picked up 41 wins and finished his sixth season at No. 1.
December 11, 2020
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This week, we’re highlighting our top five ATP players of the year. Last week, we revealed our Top 5 WTA list. Click here to read each selection.
Notable 2020 Stats
Titles: ATP Cup, Australian Open, Dubai, Cincinnati, Rome
Finals: Roland Garros
Win-loss record: 41-5 (16-2 in Grand Slams)
Key wins: Stefanos Tsitsipas (x2), Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev
To say that 2020 was a memorable year for Novak Djokovic would be an understatement, it just might not be remembered for entirely good things despite his sizable on-court achievements.
In January, ranked No. 2 in the world, the Serbian began his year at the inaugural ATP Cup with six wins. He cruised through the Australian Open draw with the loss of just one set all the way to the final. There he withstood stiff resistance from Dominic Thiem, but survived the five-set battle to hold his 17th career Grand Slam title.
“Obviously at this stage of my career, Grand Slams are the ones I value the most,” he said in Melbourne. “They are the ones I prioritize. Before the season starts I try to set my form, shape for these events where I can be at my prime tennis, mental and physical abilities.”
A few weeks later he pocketed the ATP 500 event in Dubai, leaving him to remain unbeaten as the tour endured a near six-month shutdown.
“I think this has been one of the best starts of all seasons I had in my career,” he said. “I’m just grateful that I’m playing well, feeling well. I’ve won many matches now in a row. I’ll try to keep that run going. It’s just way too early to speak about how long that run might go, the calculations.”
While the quarantine months dragged on, Djokovic looked to turn something bad into something great for his home region. Backed by organizers, a group of participating players and the local government, he put together the Adria Tour with scheduled exhibition matches in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia. While an ambitious and well-meaning idea, it was ill-timed and fell apart spectacularly at the second stop with a number of COVID-19 cases, including Djokovic himself.
“My intention was pure, I was wholeheartedly committed to organizing a humanitarian event to help players and tennis federations in the [Balkan] region,” the 33-year-old said. “We complied with all the laws and regulations. But we’ve learned our lessons and some things could have probably been done in a different way.”
If anyone could bounce back from such a public fall from grace, it would be the No. 1-ranked player in the world, who called the criticism a “witch hunt”. By the time the tour resumed, he was ready to return to winning and handling the media with aplomb as the focus shifted quickly to the newly launched Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).
After winning the relocated Western & Southern Open at Flushing Meadows, he’d comfortably make the fourth round of the US Open, extending his win streak to 26. Then, disaster struck, this time in the most baffling of ways. His angrily hit ball pegged a lineswoman in the throat, and ended his US Open bid at 5-6 in the first set to Pablo Carreno Busta. The world was left reeling.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he said in a written statement. “As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being.”
Djokovic regrouped relatively quickly with yet another trophy, in Rome, marking his first ATP Masters 1000 there since 2015. By the time he made it to the Roland Garros final, there was certainly some hope he could challenge Rafael Nadal. Instead, he didn’t win a game in the first set and succumbed quickly in three.
He’d escape to the mountains of Bosnia to recharge and then attempt to clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking in Vienna, only to exit with a bizarre lopsided loss to Lorenzo Sonego.
To close out the year, he’d reach the semifinals of the ATP Finals and lose in a third-set tiebreaker to Thiem.
“Well, it happens, I guess,” he said. “Can’t win them all.”
Though his on-court achievements were vast in 2020, leading the tour with the highest winning percentage (89.1) and tying Pete Sampras for year-end No. 1 finishes, his integrity was challenged at multiple points. Famously not a fan favorite already, Djokovic was left to dig himself out of deep holes.
He handled it with long-winded, philosophical answers that are largely considered his norm.
“Well, the way I see myself obviously is different the way maybe other people see me,” he said. “I mean, I try to be true to my core values, what I kind of grew up with. But I was always saying that the only constant in my life is the change. I am someone that has that kind of approach to life, to really have an open mind, open heart, learn and grow and develop my character, be as best of a human being I can possibly be.
“I mean, I have my flaws, as anybody else. I try to remind myself of how blessed I am really to be in this position.”
Though nothing looks predictable going into 2021, more wins and long answers from Djokovic seem all but guaranteed.