In the end, did the streak really mean much?
Novak Djokovic walked on the court on Feb. 25 at the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to face Feliciano Lopez and knowing that a few more wins would give him another final. He walked off a loser, unable to reach an 18th straight tournament final, despite not ever facing a match point.
He withdrew, overcome by an allergy and an eye infection. “I’m really sad to end the tournament this way,” Djokovic said afterward. “It’s the first time I’ve had such a problem.”
One may have hoped fans in Dubai would react accordingly and, for the most part, folks were comprehensive—though not everyone was.
Nole checking those fans booing. pic.twitter.com/9KJvY0a8tY
— Andreen (@A_Gallivant) February 25, 2016
Do you know who may have said the exact opposite as Djokovic did? Ivan Lendl, the man whose streak of 18 straight finals remains intact and an Open era record.
It’s cruel for Djokovic, who will have to wait another time to possibly tie one of the sport’s most random and randomly difficult records—or, you know, he won’t because it’s such an unlikely occurence. Here’s what will go down the record books for the Serb, a streak that lasted over a full calendar year.
Djokovic's amazing streak of finals
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) February 25, 2016
Djokovic probably won’t mind that the streak is over, because it ultimately is relatively meaningless. He said as much after his loss against Lopez. “My match record is the least of my thoughts at this moment,” Djokovic said. “I just hope that this problem will fade away in the next few days.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t mean all that much because so many other things are within his grasp. He just notched his 700th career win, which is quite a nice milestone (i.e. only 12 men have managed the feat on the ATP).
After his next Masters 1000 event—because doesn’t it feel like just about a guarantee that he will win one, and soon?—Djokovic will tie Rafael Nadal’s with 27 for most all time. If the Serb gets another ATP World Tour Finals at the end of this season, he will become the event’s career leader with six titles and, should he defend his Australian Open title in 2017, he would become the first man to win seven times down under.
Perhaps most importantly, a win at Roland Garros this season, then later in the summer in Rio, would polish his resume and only cement his standing among history’s greats. He knows it. “I try not to be overconfident, but being at the peak of my career at the moment,” he said, “I’m trying to use this momentum that I have, take everything out of myself, and achieve more.”
And yet, it would be silly to entirely discredit this streak. Stan Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych are the only three players outside of Roger Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray to have battled Djokovic during this streak of 17 finals. Notably, only one of the losses the Serb suffered occurred at a 500- or 250-level tournament.
By and large, against presumably the finest and best players of the sport, the Serb finished 13-4 and lost only 13 total sets on the biggest stages of the ATP World Tour.
Not bad, right?
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG