If Novak Djokovic’s start to 2022 was, as described by Rafael Nadal, a “big mess”, then his finish to the year could hardly have been more different.
From playing just three matches in the first four months of the season, Djokovic has finished by winning three titles in the final two months, including a record-equalling sixth Nitto ATP Finals. Since his post-Laver Cup return he’s lost just one match across four tournaments, and dropped only four sets.
Carlos Alcaraz might be the year-end No. 1, but it’s fair to wonder how long into 2023 he will be able to stay there, especially after the news that Djokovic will be able to return to Australia, where he has no ranking points to defend.
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"As we look forward to next year, I still think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think Novak Djokovic is the best player in the world,” said former world No. 1 Andy Roddick on Tennis Channel after seeing Djokovic boss his early matches at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Djokovic has admitted that the “emotional and mental traces” of everything that happened in Australia took him months to recover from. He won in Rome, but it probably took until Wimbledon for Djokovic to look close to his best again. In the last few months he has taken it up another level.
"It seems like he's in a great place both physically and mentally," said Casper Ruud about Djokovic ahead of the final in Turin.
Djokovic hit the ground running on his return to the ATP Tour after the Laver Cup, winning in Tel Aviv and Astana, and making the final in Paris. But the ATP Finals felt like a statement week. Up against the best in the world, aside from injured Alcaraz, Djokovic put everyone to the sword. Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten in straight sets, Andrey Rublev in 69 minutes, Daniil Medvedev gave everything but lost in a gruelling three-hour clash, Taylor Fritz fell in two tie-breakers, Ruud didn't create a break-point chance in the final.
Djokovic has now won the ATP Finals six times, as many as Roger Federer. He is the oldest-ever winner of the tournament by five years. He spoke after his semi-final win about “evolving” with extra wisdom and experience. But physically Djokovic doesn’t seem to be aging on the court. He looks as agile as ever, is serving great, and is still able to hit with power through shots – see
. There were the physical worries in the same match, but he overcame them and returned the next day to beat Fritz in a tight one.
“I like the fact that I was able to win against Medvedev after a very long battle, then come back the next day after not too much time for recovery, be able to win another tight match against Fritz in two sets,” he said afterwards. “That's something that has in a way defined my career over the years.”
One thing that has defined many of the greats is that matches feel inevitable. Whether it’s a routine stroll or a gutsy come-from-behind battle, victory always seems likely from whatever position. After a rocky year, Djokovic is starting to look inevitable again.
He started the ATP Finals with 35 consecutive holds – against the best players in the world. When Medvedev served for the match he broke. Against Fritz he played huge in the big moments – winning the crucial points in both tie-breaks and breaking to stay in the second set.
According to Tennis Insights, Djokovic’s shot quality throughout the semi-final was 8.0 on his forehand and 7.9 on his backhand. In the first tie-break those numbers rose to 9.6 and 8.4, and in the second set-set tie-break the forehand again went up to 8.9. In the final he won the crucial point to break to take the first set after a lengthy rally.
Djokovic is hitting top form just in time for a return to Australia.
What reception the nine-time champion gets in Melbourne is uncertain, but he should be the strong favourite to win the tournament and move level with Nadal on 22 majors.
It’s been fair to wonder at times this year whether Djokovic’s vaccination decision would end up costing him at the Grand Slam race, whether not being able to play two of the four Grand Slams of 2022, and perhaps being a bit undercooked for the French Open, would be something he would regret one day. Now, even though the guard is definitely a-changing, it’s not hard to imagine Djokovic winning at least two Slams again next year.

Djokovic: 'My mentality is to win every match' after epic battle with Medvedev

He looks as motivated as ever, as flexible and mobile as ever, and as strong as ever.
The fire still looks to be burning within, perhaps even stronger after everything that has happened this year. There was something telling about the way that Djokovic persevered against Medvedev in his final round-robin match even though it didn’t mean anything (aside from ranking points) and he had seemingly been struggling physically. Even when Medvedev served for the match Djokovic did not relent. It was a match he desperately wanted to win.
“He really left it out there, even though he didn’t have to,” said world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova after the match. But maybe he felt he did. Maybe Djokovic feels like he has a point to prove, and that could be a problem for the rest of the tour over the next year.
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