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If Novak Djokovic Never Played Tennis

By Andrew Guan

To put it simply: if Novak Djokovic never played tennis, lots of interesting things would happen. But it wouldn’t all happen at once.

Some background information: the Serbian, born in Belgrade, is currently the world number one, according to the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour. He is the only player to win all of the “Big Titles” in tennis, which includes all four Grand Slam tournaments (Roland Garros, U.S. Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon), all nine ATP Masters events (Canadian Open in Toronto and Montreal, Italian Open in Rome, Indian Wells Masters in Palm Springs, Miami Open, Monte-Carlo Masters, Madrid Open, Cincinnati Masters, Shanghai Masters, and Paris Masters), and the ATP Tour Finals.

First off, if Djokovic never played tennis, we’d see a lot more titles being awarded to the other tennis supergiants: Rafael Nadal (of Spain) and Roger Federer (of Switzerland). Back in the 2000s decade, Federer was considered in his “prime.” He was winning major titles left and right, leaving no chance for other players, including Nadal himself. The Spaniard won his first match against the defending Swiss champion in Miami as a 17-year-old. Federer and Nadal have played each other 40 times, with Nadal leading the overall head-to-head 24 matches to 16. Djokovic really started snaking his way to the Big Titles in the early 2010s decade. Currently, all three supergiants are tied in the number of Grand Slam titles: 20. But if Djokovic dropped out, many opportunities would open for Nadal and Federer.

Second, if Djokovic never played tennis, we’d see younger stars, such as Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Dominic Thiem claiming more and more ATP and Grand Slam titles. Dominic Thiem recently won his first Grand Slam title: the U.S. Open 2020. His path to the trophy was cleared when Djokovic was disqualified in the fourth round after hitting a line judge in the throat. Dominic Thiem, now 27 years old, is now pushing through an extreme injury in his right arm. This year at the Australian Open, we saw many upsets: Stefanos Tsitsipas knocked Nadal out of the tournament in an epic, sealing it in five sets, becoming the second person in history to defeat Nadal after being two sets down, after Fabio Fognini. Tsitsipas, 23 years old, was then defeated by the Russian Daniil Medvedev, who was then defeated by Djokovic in the finals. A few months later, Tsitsipas managed to avenge his loss by obliterating Medvedev and Zverev to reach the finals against Djokovic. Although he lost, a clear message rang through the world: the “Next Gen” (or Next Generation) is pulling through.

Third, if Djokovic never played tennis, the ATP ranking system would become unreliable (even more so than it already is, in fact). If Djokovic suddenly dropped out of tennis today, Medvedev would move up to world number one, and Nadal would be number two. (Federer began falling behind a while back.) The number three title would be a tough battle to decide between Tsitsipas, Thiem, and Zverev. Afterwards, the deciding championship between Diego Schwartzman, Matteo Berrettini, and Andrey Rublev would also prove to be an absolute war. All ranking below the top ten would quickly collapse into chaos. Upsets would pop up left and right, and meanwhile, Djokovic himself would be sitting back and chuckling, relishing his control over the tennis community.

Sometimes it’s nice not to destroy the world for a change.

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