September 13, 2011
Novak Djokovic is making a bid to put together the greatest season in tennis history. With just two losses and three Grand Slam titles to his credit, the Serbian could end the year with better seasons than John McEnroe had in 1984, when he set the ATO record for best winning-percentage in a single season, and Roger's Federer 2006, widely considered to be the best of the Swiss' numerous sublime campaigns. Today, Busted Racquet compares the three seasons to determine which one deserves to go down in history as the greatest ever.
McEnroe: 82-3 (96.47%), two Grand Slams, 13 tournament wins
Federer: 92-5 (94.85%), three Grand Slams, 14 tournament wins
Djokovic: 64-2 (96.7%), three Grand Slams, 10 tournament wins
Advantage: Djokovic (so far)
McEnroe: Against the next three players in the world (Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander), McEnroe was 15-1. His losses were to Lendl, Henrik Sunstrom (No. 7) and Vitay Amritraj (No. 70). McEnroe beat Connors in each of his three Grand Slams and avenged his French Open loss to the Czech at the U.S. Open. His road to the Wimbledon title was easier. Up until the final, he didn't face a player ranked in the top 15.
Federer: If not for Nadal, Federer would have almost been perfect in 2006. His lone non-Rafa defeat came to Andy Murray early at Cincinnati. (I'm sensing a pattern there.) The Grand Slam opposition wasn't tight; in Australia, Federer beat Marcos Baghdatis in the final and at the U.S. Open he didn't face a player in the top five. (He did beat Andy Roddick in the final though.) Only Wimbledon provided a tough test, when Federer defeated a still-green on the grass Nadal.
Djokovic: Like McEnroe, Djokovic has thrived against his main competitors. He's 13-2 this year against Federer, Nadal and Murray and had to defeat at least two of them in two of his Grand Slam victories. Through no fault of their own, McEnroe and Federer didn't have to face as stiff of competition en route to their historic seasons.
McEnroe: Johnny Mac didn't play the Australian Open in '84, giving him only three opportunities to win a Slam. Owned Connors, the world No. 2 at the time. Lost 12 games total in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Federer: Lost once after Roland Garros. To match, Djokovic would have to win out for the year.
Djokovic: There were no 1000s events when McEnroe competed in 1984, meaning fields at the lesser tournaments weren't as stacked.
McEnroe: Blew a two-set lead in the French Open final. Widely considered to have tanked his second loss of the year in the opening round at Cincinnati. Was suspended for 21 days late in the year for ball abuse and abuse of an official. While serving the suspension, McEnroe injured his left wrist and had to withdraw from the Australian Open (which was played as the year's final Slam back then).
Federer: Didn't win a clay court tournament. Lost his first four matches of the year to Rafael Nadal (three in clay court finals).
Djokovic: Retired from Cincinnati final against Andy Murray.
We understand that comparing seasons 27 years apart is nearly impossible. That's what makes it so fun though. Judging by our subjective criteria, by all measures, Novak Djokovic is set to have the greatest season in modern tennis history. A lot can change between now and the ATP World Tour Finals in London though, so we'll revisit this question after Thanksgiving to make our final call.
Note: Rod Laver won the Grand Slam in 1969 and finished with a 106-16 record. He "only" won 18 of 32 tournaments though. If someone wants to make a compelling case for the Aussie, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.