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Novak Djokovic Forced to Seize Glory From Legends

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COMMENTARY | Amidst the carnage of the epic war being fought for the "Greatest Of All Time" title, Novak Djokovic has quietly been playing some extraordinary tennis over the last few years.

As the gods of tennis and their attendants sit in the clouds and debate the Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal conundrum, Djokovic has been much like Theseus of ancient Greece -- slaying opponents left and right with the relatively muted recognition of a mere demigod.

But isn't that how heroes normally live -- grinding out victories, not for the glory but for the good of their own cause?

According to mythology, Theseus slew the half-man, half-bull beast known as the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Knossos. In slightly less dramatic fashion, Novak Djokovic recently conquered a different bull-themed opponent in London.

Realistically, who could blame the world of tennis for overlooking this supposedly lessor being in favor of legends such as Federer and Nadal?

Like Zeus and Poseidon, these two lords have ruled over their respective kingdoms for so long that it's becoming difficult to imagine what life must have been like before they arrived. And just as Theseus is long-remembered in the scrolls of Greek mythology, Djokovic is seeking to make a mark of such historic significance that he too might be raised into the clouds.

Without the distraction of Nadal's great pursuit, Djokovic may have already been deemed worthy. Instead, his triumphs have been mostly restricted to the fringes of consciousness in tennis. Myriads of divided partisans remain focused on Nadal as he advances methodically forward in hopes of fully annexing Federer's crown.

Nonetheless, Djokovic's deeds on the worldwide courts of tennis have been impressive.

Take, for example, Djokovic's divine season in 2011. A year in which he nearly claimed a new record for the most wins without a loss to start a calendar year. At 41 wins and zero losses, Novak fell just one win short of tying John McEnroe (1984). And that was against the likes of Federer and Nadal.

That would be the same year in which Novak Djokovic became the closest since Rod Laver to win the calendar Grand Slam. Losing by a minuscule margin to Roger Federer in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open is possibly the only difference today between Djokovic and immortality.

Unlike Federer in his best years, Djokovic has actually been putting Rafa to the test on clay. In the lead-up to the French Open during that magnificent season, Djokovic beat Nadal in the finals of two clay tournaments -- a nearly unthinkable feat. Had Federer not halted his momentum in Paris, it's probable Djokovic would have claimed The Musketeers' Trophy to go along with his other three.

If you doubt these assertions, simply locate the video from his matches against Nadal in the finals of the 2011 tournaments in Madrid and Rome. Djokovic's five-set encounter against Nadal at the 2013 French Open should also be on the list. The latter being a contest many former legends of the sport have called the greatest match ever played on clay.

Just as Djokovic has slowly but surely carved out wins against Federer and Nadal in recent years, the Serbian has also quietly carved out his own special niche on tour.

With the French Open firmly in Nadal's tight grasp, and Wimbledon and the US Open having been branded with a stylish "RF," Djokovic went east and due south of home to seek glory.

It's on the continent of Australia that Djokovic has been busy building a growing empire.

The tournament in Melbourne may not have the same pedigree as the other three Slams, but that's mostly due to its relative isolation prior to the advent of commercial flight. And this upstart venue may actually be the perfect fit for the birth of a new line in tennis royalty.

In 2013, Djokovic became the first Open Era player to win the Australian Open in three consecutive years. Next year, he could become the first of his era to win the Australian Open on five occasions -- a feat that would go a long way in cementing his legacy.

Additionally, let's not to forget Djokovic's recent domination of the ATP World Tour Finals. Having already won the event in 2008 and 2012, he claimed his third career title by beating Nadal in the 2013 final last weekend.

Like Federer before him, it seems that Djokovic has identified the Achilles heel of his greatest rival -- indoor hard court. Brandishing what has to be considered one of the most dynamic backhands in tennis history, Djokovic claimed the ATP trophy and the last word of 2013 in what has become an intriguing rivalry.

Thankfully, that is where the comparisons to Greek mythology come to an end. Although Djokovic may have struck Nadal down to end the year, it will certainly not be the final blow exchanged between them.

It's all but certain these two gladiators will meet in the near future and extend what has become the most competitive rivalry in the Open Era.

In the meantime, the great debate between Federer and Nadal will surely rage on. And amidst the booming thunder and lightening of that heavenly discussion, Novak Djokovic will continue writing his own remarkable story.

With two or three more titles Down Under, he'll likely be rewarded one day with his own place alongside the stars in the sky.

Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.

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