Can the Chasing Pack Halt the Djokovic Juggernaut in 2016?

Can the chasing pack – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – end Novak Djokovic’s reign in 2016?

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Sports
3 min read
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer pose after the 2015 US Open final. (Photo: Reuters)
  • Can the chasing pack – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – end Novak Djokovic’s reign in 2016?
  • Djokovic has an enormous lead of 7,640 points over the second-ranked Andy Murray.
  • Displacing the Serb from his pedestal will be among the most daunting tasks in sport this year.

“Here we come again to a new season”

Eight words. That’s all. A chilling reminder to the rest of the men who play on the professional tennis circuit.

On Monday, Novak Djokovic starts his 2016 journey in Doha. Last year at the same tournament, he was stunned in the semifinals by the giant Croat Ivo Karlovic. For the rest of 2015, Djokovic lost just five more matches. By the time he ended, with his eleventh title of the year in London in November, the mighty Serb had produced one of the all-time great seasons in professional tennis.

With an enormous lead of 7,640 points over the second-ranked Andy Murray, displacing Djokovic from his pedestal will be among the most daunting tasks in sport this year. At 28, he is at the peak of his powers – supremely fit, astoundingly elastic, with a game perfected for all surfaces and a capacity to absorb relentless pressure.

Roger Federer. (Photo: AP)
Roger Federer. (Photo: AP)

The chasing pack is a cast of familiar figures.

Roger Federer, going on 35, yet continuing to produce the sparkle of the glory years. In 2015, the legendary Swiss was the only player to beat Djokovic thrice, won six titles and even unveiled a new shot that now bears his name! Federer starts his year in Brisbane and is enthused by the prospect of devoting himself to the grind again.

I had a great season last year, playing aggressive tennis. Of course, players adapt so we will see how aggressively I can play this year. I’ve been playing really well for a year and a half now, since I came back from my back injury. That’s been very encouraging. With age and experience, I know where I am and I feel like I’m in a good place.

Roger Federer

Rafael Nadal. (Photo: AP)
Rafael Nadal. (Photo: AP)

Also making his way gradually back to a “good place” after plunging to some despairing depths last year is Rafael Nadal. Having forced his way back to number five in the rankings with a late season surge after slipping out of the top ten briefly, Nadal will start his year alongside Djokovic in Doha. At the end of last season, Nadal conceded Djokovic’s “mental strength and level of tennis is difficult to equal.”

Two other men will be eager to make a case as worthy rivals – Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray. Both enjoyed memorable moments in 2015. Wawrinka handed Djokovic his only defeat in a major tournament, clinching his second Grand Slam title at the French Open.

Andy Murray. (Photo: AP)
Andy Murray. (Photo: AP)

Murray single-handedly captured the Davis Cup for Great Britain for the first time in nearly eight decades and secured second place behind Djokovic in the rankings. His immediate focus will be to arrest a disturbing slide against Djokovic who leads their head-to-head 21-9 and his beaten him in 10 of their 11 matches since 2014.

When you watch his game, he hits the ball well off both sides. There are not many holes in his game. When maybe one shot for him is off during a match, he can hit all of the other ones well and make up for that, too. There are a lot of things that he does very well on the court. That’s why he’s been number one in the world for a while now.

Andy Murray

Quite clearly, the story of 2016 will be defined by the men on the trail of the undisputed leader of the circuit. Novak Djokovic is the gold standard in men’s tennis and followers of the sport around the world enthusiastically join him in unison when he says:

“Here we come again to a new season”

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