When Djokovic did take the court, he was frequently brilliant as ever.
Most Memorable Moment: Winning his seventh Wimbledon title.
Missed Opportunity: He held two set points to take Rafael Nadal into a fifth set of their Roland Garros quarterfinal—but ended up losing the match in a fourth-set tiebreaker.
2023 Projection: Thorough engagement, once again.
Despite not earning ranking points for winning Wimbledon, despite missing two Slams and four Masters 1000 events, Djokovic finished the year ranked fifth in the world.
There came an ace, struck right down the T in the ad court. This was championship point at the Nitto ATP Finals, Novak Djokovic winning that prestigious event for a record-tying sixth time. (For highlights, watch the video above.) Call Djokovic’s final untouchable serve a fitting punctuation mark on a year like none he had ever faced.
Years from now, when the ebb and flow of Djokovic’s career is assessed, what came of him in 2022 might well be looked on less for its frustrations and more as a blessing. Perhaps it was a career-extender, Djokovic absent from competition for three significant hard-court stretches. This year also provided further evidence of three words that describe what make him one of tennis’ all-time greats: Devotion. Discipline. Precision.
Is it best to evaluate Djokovic’s 2022 by examining where he played, or where he didn’t? Briefly consider what Djokovic missed as the result of his choice not to be vaccinated againt the coronavirus: In January, amid a flurry of tennis and governmental action that could one day make for a remarkable book, documentary, Netflix series and political science dissertation, Djokovic was denied entry to Australia and the chance to pursue a tenth Australian Open title. Said Djokovic later in the year, “Everything that has followed Australia, particularly on the tournaments, has been a huge challenge and obstacle for me to overcome emotionally.”
In March, he was barred entry to the United States and hence unable to play the Indian Wells and Miami Masters 1000s. In August, again no tennis in North America—no Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open.
But when Djokovic did take the court, he was frequently brilliant as ever. Spring saw a title run in Rome, including wins over three men who’d join him at this year’s ATP Finals: Felix Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas. There were also victories in the fall at tournaments in Tel Aviv and Astana. By year’s end, Djokovic had earned his 91st career singles title; only Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Rafael Nadal have won more.
But of course, at this stage of his career, what matters most to Djokovic are the majors. In 2021, he’d earned three, only falling short of a calendar year Grand Slam in the finals of the US Open. In 2022, though, Djokovic played just two majors. The first came at Roland Garros, where Djokovic won four matches without the loss of a set before losing to Nadal in a compelling quarterfinal, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Then came Wimbledon and what was by far Djokovic’s greatest moment of 2022. Even though he arrived as strong favorite, had won the title three straight times and six overall, the transcendent, global significance of Wimbledon is so great that questions always surround the status and possibilities of the holder. On tennis’ grandest stage, amid our sport’s biggest audience and all the royalty that has previously witnessed and commanded Centre Court, could he rise to the occasion yet again? Might other contenders topple him? And in the case of Djokovic, was his absence from so much of the circuit in the first half of the season a liability or an asset?
Djokovic answered every question. Through the first four rounds, he faced nary a challenge. The next three matches were much tougher. In the quarterfinals, Djokovic came up against a player 13 years younger, the hard-hitting Jannik Sinner. Though Sinner took the first two sets, Djokovic rallied back quite forcefully, eventually winning 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Versus Great Britain’s Cam Norrie in the semis, Djokovic again fell behind—and again rebounded sharply, winning 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
What was to come on Wimbledon’s final Sunday? While this was Djokovic’s 32nd Grand Slam final, his opponent, Nick Kyrgios, had reached that stage for the first time in his career. Then again, Kyrgios had beaten Djokovic the only two times they’d previously played. Add to this Kyrgios’ lively array of shots, and the possibility of a new Wimbledon champion floated in the air.
Though Kyrgios won the first set, 6-4, Djokovic once again proved the master of taking a hit and then taking control. Subsequently, strand by strand, rally by rally, point by point, he asserted himself over Kyrgios. Djokovic won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-4, and then, in the fourth, just as Kyrgios threatened to take the match into a decider, those hopes were extinguished in a superb tiebreaker, Djokovic dropping just three points.