November 13, 2012


It must be nice to end the year exactly the way you started it -- at least when you kick it off the way Novak Djokovic did in 2012.

No, he didn't have quite the success he had at the start of last year -- the two titles he won in the first half pale in comparison to the eight he wracked up in the same period of 2011, and he wasn't able to repeat the shocking defeats of Rafael Nadal on clay he scored last season. But he made the final at three of the four Grand Slams and late-season wins in Beijing and Shanghai helped him secure the year-end #1 ranking for a second straight year.

Still, there had been a bit of a curse on top players at the ATP Championships in recent years. In 2011 Djokovic's grueling schedule must've taken a huge toll on him in the post-season -- he lost two of three round robin matches and failed to make it to the London semis. A year earlier, Rafael Nadal did reach the final, but couldn't close out the title against Roger Federer. With some interesting underdogs sneaking in for trophies before that, the year-end #1 hasn't taken year-end championship since 2007, when eventual six-time winner Roger Federer picked up his fourth. And the way the veteran champion began yesterday's title match, it looked like he was about to add to his total.

Federer might have had an even more impressive year than his opponent. Though he didn't finish 2012 with the top ranking, he briefly reclaimed it after ending a long Slam drought in July and picked up another five titles to boot. He made his eighth ATP Championship match after a one-sided win over recent nemesis Andy Murray, and took control early against Djokovic on Monday. He won the first three games of the match and, after ceding the lead a few games later, successfully kept Nole from serving out the set at 6-5. With shots like this, he proved he is still hungry for more titles, but more than a few errors also proved he's also human, and eventually put him in a one-set deficit. Djokovic kept cool in the second set too -- after a long opening game he got down a break early again, but finally broke for five-all, saving set points and ultimately winning the match after over two hours on court.

While Nole didn't need the win to clinch the top year-end ranking, his victory certainly cements his place as the most successful player of the year, stealing back momentum that may have shifted in recent months. He also becomes only the ninth player of the Open Era to hold the spot two years in a row, and the first since Roger Federer began his domination of the sport ten years ago.

So have we finally, officially witnessed a changing of the guard in men's tennis? With Djokovic proving he can not only come out swinging as he did in 2011, but can also weather the storm of tournaments through spring, summer and fall, has he ultimately shown he's ready to take the reins over from the Greatest of All Time? And how long will his own dominance last?

Whatever the case, there are plenty of players nipping at his heels, eager to prove they too are part of this new era. But if Nole continues to play like he did this year -- and no, not like he did last -- it could be quite some time before he lets anyone else in.

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