When Novak Djokovic began 2013 with his fourth Australian Open title, following a four-set defeat of Andy Murray, few could have predicted that he’d end the year watching Rafa Nadal lift his second Slam of the season at a rapturous Flushing Meadows.
Nadal had been unable to compete in Australia due to a stomach virus, yet another blow for the Spaniard after appearing to finally overcome his persistent knee issues.
Doubts continued to be raised from tennis experts about whether Nadal would ever be able to replicate his form of old and challenge the undoubted number one, not to mention the added obstacle of an increasingly improving and confident Andy Murray.
As it turned out, Nadal’s US Open victory completed a stunning comeback year in which even Djokovic admitted had seen his old rival return to the top of the sport in all but name.
The Spaniard had first collected a record eighth French Open title at Roland Garros earlier in the year, cementing his status as nigh-on unbeatable on clay. Andy Murray then claimed his first ever Wimbledon title with a straight sets victory over a strangely subdued Djokovic, and the Serb will now spend the rest of the year clinging on to his number one spot. Should Nadal outperform him in Beijing at the ATP Open, Djokovic could end the year off the top for the first time since July 2011.
It certainly represents a crossroads for the previously all-conquering Djokovic, whose three Grand Slam wins in 2011 was described by the likes of Pete Sampras and even Nadal himself as the best ever season seen on a tennis court.
But Djokovic has been here before. In an almost eerily similar scenario, the Serb could only watch as Nadal defeated him at the US Open in 2010, in four sets, and after Djokovic had threatened a comeback by claiming the second set. Just as would happen three years later.
At that point in his career, Djokovic had only one Grand Slam to his name, a 2008 Australian Open win, and was being prematurely labelled as a perennial underachiever in the game.
The Serb swallowed his pride, and spent a winter in the gym becoming fitter, stronger and with a more ruthless mindset. There is no reason why Nole won’t do the same again this winter, and the die is cast for a formidable 2014.
Providing his nemesis stays clear of injury, it’s hard to see how Djokovic will overcome Nadal in Paris, but the Serb can be backed at 7/1 to repeat his 2011 backlash and win three Grand Slams in 2014.
However, with Murray likely to be his main contender on grass, and with a raucous home crowd proving how influential they can be at Wimbledon this year, three may be a step too far even for a revitalised Djokovic.
But even if Murray again succeeds at SW19, it still leaves Djokovic’s own arena of dominance, Australia’s Rod Laver Area, where he has won three consecutive titles, and the coin-toss of the US Open, which has seen five different winners in six years, up for grabs. It makes the 7/4 on offer for Djokovic to add a further two Slams to his career tally the smart pick.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.