Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon crowns his player of the decade in the ATP.
We completed the exercise a week ago and crowned, to little real surprise, the great Serena Williams as the best player of the previous decade in women’s tennis.
And here’s where we play spoilers: as you read this week’s column, maybe you’ll expect a surprising turn, or a different conclusion than the one that’s presented loud and clear in the title up above. Well, don’t. The title is there for a reason and the rest of these words is to explain to you why we reached this conclusion.
Over the past few weeks, there’s been that old meme circulating around #TennisTwitter, the one that shows that at the end of the last decade Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were the top 3 players in men’s tennis, and that at the end of this world it’s still the same three players, only ranked differently. It’s to signify that time is a flat circle and that the more things change in men’s tennis, the more they stay the same.
In any case, let’s go ahead and crown our player of the decade in the ATP—and remember, dear reader, if you have complaints about any of our choices, please reach out to us on Twitter.
5. Andy Murray
The 32-year-old Andy Murray is but a shell of his former self in 2019, but at his best he was a clear force on tour. It was never fair to Murray to lump him in with the top trio in men’s tennis as he was never really their equal—and yet, the Brit remains the only person in the world, men or female, to have won two singles Olympic gold medals. It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but it’s still something.
4. Stanislas Wawrinka
Seemingly overnight, Stanislas Wawrinka turned supernova and superhuman and managed to shed the “other Swiss guy” label to become the foremost one on tour at the middle of this past decade. Ranking the Stanimal ahead of Murray on this list is probably a controversial decision, but let’s not forget that the Swiss has just as many Grand Slam titles as Murray. But what puts him over the top, to us, is that Wawrinka, over the latter half of the decade, has been the one player against whom the best player in men’s tennis was rendered hopeless. They don’t give out trophies for this, but maybe they ought to.
3. Roger Federer
Roger Federer has been declared and left for dead for a number of years now, but here he still is, standing strong in 2019. His tally of five Grand Slam titles, much to the chagrin of his most ardent fans, is impressive for a 38-year-old but still clearly lags behind those of the next two names on this list. Look, he’s the third best of the decade, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
2. Rafael Nadal
The most impressive part is obviously the whopping eight Roland-Garros titles Rafael Nadal has captured this decade, but the most surprising is no doubt the four others he won on the US Open hard courts, his supposed weakest playing surface. The Spaniard remains the greatest player of all time on clay and is one of only a handful in history to have completed the career Grand Slam.
1. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic’s place atop this list was never, ever, ever in doubt. The world’s best returner of all time has just completed a decade that rivals anything anyone else has ever done in men’s tennis. The Serb’s triumph is not only one of sheer insanity for absolute numbers, but it is that yes: there are the 15 Grand Slam titles, the five year-end No. 1 rankings, the seven Australian Open titles, the four Grand Slam wins in a row and being the only man to have completed the career Grand Slam and swept all nine of the Masters 1000 events.
Djokovic’s triumph is also one of narrative, though it is not simply that: men’s tennis had spent the previous decade revelling and basking in the glow of the supposed two best players the sport would ever see, only to enter a new decade with the third best player in the world, the afterthought, turning out to actually be the greatest one of all.
A decade of dominance from @DjokerNole.
Here’s some of his best work from the last 10 years ? pic.twitter.com/RbVogLPI7M
— ATP Tour (@atptour) December 21, 2019
Most of all, Djokovic’s triumph is one of moments. It’s the triumph of his 41-0 start in 2011, the triumph of the interminable 2012 Australian Open, the triumph of making Roger Federer cry this past year at Wimbledon. For the most part over the past decade, there has seldom been important and key match and tour moments where Djokovic didn’t triumph.
He didn’t always come out on top, but it sure as hell always felt surprising when he didn’t.
The Novak Djokovic decade in numbers
Australian Open: 54 wins / 4 losses
Roland Garros: 52 wins / 9 losses
Wimbledon: 57 wins / 5 losses
US Open: 53 wins / 6 losses
ATP Finals: 31 wins / 9 losses
Overall: 627 wins / 100 losses
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG