Novak Djokovic does not need the 2014 U.S. Open.
A win would be a nice feather in the cap, yes, but the No. 1 player in the world has accomplished plenty this season en route to that rank. No matter the outcome in New York in the coming weeks, Djokovic's 2014 campaign has already been a resounding success.
There have been speed bumps along the way, but that goes for just about any player this year as the sport has showcased more parity than usual. Just ask the normally dominant Serena Williams, who tallied her earliest exit from Wimbledon since 2005 and has been upset by a bevy of names.
So recent issues—a loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup and defeat at the hands of a No. 16 seed at the Western and Southern Open—do not necessarily paint the upcoming tournament as a desperate turning point.
After all, this is a player who has sparred with Federer all year, beating him in March for the title at Indian Wells and upending Rafael Nadal for a fourth straight time for a win in Rome. Most important of all, though, was his triumph over Federer to secure his second Wimbledon championship and the No. 1 overall rank.
After arguably the greatest match of the season, Djokovic was adamant in how important the victory was to him. Per Douglas Robson of USA Today:
"'I don't know how I managed to do it,' said a choked up Djokovic on court after the nearly 4-hour match, later calling it the highest-quality Grand Slam final he'd taken part in."
ESPN's Patrick McEnroe was more straightforward after the fact, as captured by Robson:
"'I'm not going to say it's his greatest victory, but it's certainly up there,' McEnroe added of Sunday's win. 'This was one where he had to really dig deep when a lot of things went against him.'"
The triumph will not fade regardless of how the U.S. Open unfolds.
This line of thinking is only helped by the fact that Djokovic, despite being the top seed, has a downright brutal path to the final.
A date with top-ranked American John Isner is a very real possibility in the fourth round, a matchup made worse for Djokovic in what would be a hostile environment. The quarterfinals will likely be a date with the aforementioned Tsonga (and his booming serves that give Djokovic pause) or 2012 champion Andy Murray, who tore him apart in their last Grand Slam encounter (2013 Wimbledon).
In fact, six top-10 seeds and three of the top five are on Djokovic's side of the bracket. Don't forget Stan Wawrinka, who upended the No. 1 seed in the Australian Open to start the season. Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Tommy Robredo—the latter is the aforementioned No. 16 seed from Djokovic's most recent loss—are on his side, too.
Conversely, Federer has arguably the easiest path to the final, with only encounters against David Ferrer and Grigor Dimitrov a real hindrance to his chances.
As hotly anticipated as a Wimbledon final rematch would be at the season's final Grand Slam, it is easy to see why a misstep by Djokovic in New York is not some season-crippling possibility, especially not when he even admits that "Many, many, many things are not clicking these two weeks on hard courts," per Greg Garber of ESPN.co.uk.
Again, a ridiculous turnaround of energy and form to overcome an oddly lopsided draw would be a fitting end to what has been a great season for the normally consistent Djokovic. Really, fans rightfully expect nothing less.
Should Djokovic not win, though, or even make it relatively deep in the bracket, it will prove but a footnote in hindsight. Not every season can be a repeat of his 2011 campaign in which he won three of the four Grand Slams, especially not this year when he appears to have peaked at Wimbledon.
A year of consistent play and a Wimbledon triumph to seize the No. 1 rank is how 2014 will be remembered for Djokovic. Anything after is a plus, no matter how much hype and expectation follow him to New York.
Info courtesy of ATP's website unless otherwise specified.
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