Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not comparing men’s tennis to women’s tennis. I’m not saying men’s tennis is better than women’s tennis. What I’m saying is that when you consider various factors Novak Djokovic accomplished more on the tennis court in 2015 on the ATP tour than Serena Williams did on the WTA tour. Even though all anyone could talk about leading up to and during the US Open was the Serena Slam, and rightly so, Djokovic was quietly putting together a season for the ages even before his US Open victory.
Now that we’ve got that straight, I’ll tell you why.
Stats Don’t Lie
Serena won 5 titles in 2015. Novak Djokovic won 7 titles in 2015.
Serena failed to make the final of six tournaments, three of which were the result of withdrawing from tournaments, a fact that’s been overlooked. Novak Djokovic made the final of every tournament he entered this year. Let that sink in. Every. Single. One.
Of Serena’s 56 matches 19 (34%) went the full three sets. Even though 23 of Djokovic’s 68 matches (also 34%) involved Djokovic dropping a set, only 23% of his matches went the distance. Especially against higher ranked opponents this suggests that Djokovic played sharper tennis throughout the year.
To further highlight Djokovic’s match sharpness, his serve was on point all year hitting in an above average 66% of his first serves. Serena however, had to feast off of her opponent’s service games (she won a ridiculous 44% of her opponent’s service games) because she served at a well below average 57.7%. This included Serena facing 287 break points while Djokovic faced 304 in 347 more service games.
Serena faced nine top 10 players in 2015. Novak Djokovic faced 24 top 10 players. If you’re Serena all you can do is beat the people in front of you but it is clear that she didn’t have to face nearly the same level of competition on their respective tours.
Also the men’s game is stacked. There is no getting around that. I don’t care how tough a year Rafa Nadal had, if he can’t even crack the top 5 you know the surrounding talent is great. The number two player in the world on the WTA tour, Simona Halep, has never won a Grand Slam. Maria Sharapova, Serena’s personal punching bag, and Petra Kvitova are the only players in the top 20 with multiple grand slam titles to their name and there are only 6 Grand Slam titles between all the top 20 players combined. Is Serena just THAT much better?
Former multi-time champions Azarenka, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova are well past their prime which should pave the way for a younger crop of players. The problem is none of them have stepped up to date. On the men’s side there are four multi-time grand slam winners in the top ten combining for an astounding 35 career Grand Slam titles. The competition has never been stronger on the men’s side.
Social vs Personal Pressure
The argument can be made that because of the incredible pressure on Serena to win all four Grand Slams in a single year, something that hadn’t been done since 1988, in her home country, in front of home fans was far greater than anything that Novak Djokovic had to deal with. Also take into account all the race and body image hurdles that are ever present, not just recently but throughout her entire career. The scrutiny on Serena is very real.
To say however, that Djokovic wasn’t dealing with any pressure even close to that of Serena is unfair. Coming into the 2015 season Novak Djokovic had a 7-7 career record in Grand Slam finals. Is that the record of an all-time great? Definitively, no. He was only a few more blown finals away from getting tagged as someone who couldn’t finish. His legacy in the tennis history was at stake. Let’s be honest, Serena didn’t have to prove anything to anyone when it cam to her play on the court. We know, and she knows, that she is the best women’s tennis player of all time. Djokovic stepped up to shut up the critics and win three this year pushing his total to 10 total Grand Slams, something only 7 other people have done previously.
Oh yeah, and Novak Djokovic became a dad for the first time this year. Do you think it would be easy trying to think about winning tennis tournaments and being the best at something in world when all you can think about is the health and well being of your pregnant wife and then the health and well being of a newborn? Even though he claims the birth of son propelled him to greatness, it couldn’t have been a stress free 2015 in the Djokovic household. Some people can just handle it all.