Novak Djokovic has sat atop the ATP for the better part of the last year and a half and Pete Sampras believes he could stay there for the next five years.
“I do [think Djokovic can remain No. 1 for years]. I was thinking about that when he won Monte Carlo,” Sampras told TENNIS.com in a conference call with the media to promote his doubles partnership with John McEnroe in an exhibition match against Tommy Haas and Ivan Lendl at the second annual Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic, September 21-22. “He could stay No. 1 for quite a while, five or six years in a row. Realistically, if he stays healthy, he could very well do it.”
Sampras' comments seem to echo the general sentiment around the tennis world after Djokovic emphatically ended Rafael Nadal's 46-match winning streak in Monte Carlo last weekend. Djokovic defeated the Spaniard 6-2, 7-6 (1) to win his eighth different ATP Masters 1000 title (Djokovic only needs Cincinnati to complete the set). The loss was Nadal's first at the tournament since 2003 and ended his historic quest for a ninth straight Monte Carlo title.
But did the audacious streak-stopping numerology work to artificially inflate the significance of Djokovic's win? Monte Carlo was not the first time Djokovic beat Nadal in a clay-court final. Most notably, Djokovic beat Nadal in Madrid and Rome during his record-setting 2011 season. Those results, part of a year in which Djokovic went 6-0 against Nadal in finals, was the signal of Djokovic's greatness.
As Peter Bodo wrote at Tennis.com, it seems people were inclined to dismiss Djokovic's pure talent when he broke through in 2008, and even when he had his dominant 2011 season, all the discussion was about gluten-free diets, Davis Cup confidence and mental head games with Rafa, as explanations for his results. There was simply a reluctance to just throw your hands up and say, "The guy is just this good." Now, two years on, Djokovic has shown the longevity and consistency to allay any concerns that his wins were just a flash in the pan. In fact, it feels like it's just a matter of time until he completes his career Slam by winning the French Open, whether it's during Nadal's tenure or after. So Sampras is probably right. There's no reason to think that Djokovic won't sit atop the men's game for the next few years, with the occasional tug-o-war with Andy Murray over rankings and Slams. But that's not because he stopped Nadal at Rafa's favorite tournament in Monte Carlo. It's because the fact that he did shouldn't have surprised anyone.