There were always going to be days like this. Novak Djokovic’s incredible winning streak at the Grand Slams had to end sometime. Few expected this day to come against American Sam Querrey. Even after Querrey took a two sets to love lead before rain stopped play, the bookies had Djokovic as a 3-1 favourite to win the match.
Instead, the 41st ranked Querrey pulled off the biggest upset of his career with a 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 9 (5) over the world’s best tennis player.
So Djokovic’s magical run ends at six consecutive Grand Slam finals, four consecutive Slam titles (five of the last six) and a 30-match Slam winning streak. The loss also ended Djokovic’s quest for the Calendar Grand Slam, at least for 2016.
It’s a bitter defeat, but Djokovic handled it with class.
"In sports, everything is possible," he said afterward. "If you're playing somebody of as a high quality as Sam Querrey is on this surface, with a big serve, anything can happen. I was a few points away from losing last year against Kevin Anderson in a very similar match on the same court. Sometimes [a history of success] works in your favour, sometimes against. You got to deal with that."
While the loss is obviously devastating, it also puts Djokovic’s recent run in perspective. It’s the best tennis anyone has played since Roger Federer made 18 of 19 Grand Slam finals between 2004 and 2010, including a ridiculous 10 finals in a row (he won eight of those).
But even the great Federer never managed to win four Grand Slams in a row.
Piece by piece Djokovic has built himself up to be the most complete tennis player on the planet. He appears at home on every surface, from grass to hard court to clay. He may have only one French Open title, but he has reached four finals at Roland Garros and has a winning percentage of 80 percent on clay.
As Peter Bodo put in for ESPN.com: “Federer, though, had his flaws. Once Rafael Nadal matured, he hacked all of Federer's passwords. And Federer's defence was never the equal of his offense. As Djokovic piled title upon title, increasingly irrespective of surface, his comprehensive skill set became mind-blowing. He had everything.”
Having everything though is no guarantee of success. So much has to go right for a professional athlete to rack up victory after victory. Tiger Woods, another great champion who had everything in his chosen sport – golf – also won four Grand Slam titles in a row. But that was over two different years as well. Tiger never managed to capture the calendar Grand Slam.
This is what it we should remember about Djokovic even as he failed to stick around for the second week at Wimbledon for the first time since 2009. As stunning as his loss to Querrey is, his recent success is just as stunning, if not more so. He has dominated tennis in a way few ever have. He has challenged not just the very best of his era, but the very best of all time.
It reached a point where if Djokovic was in the draw, he wasn’t just the presumptive favourite, he was the presumptive champion. Any loss, at any stage in a tournament, even the final, was an anomaly. It was a shock when he didn’t win a tournament, no matter the surface or the opponent. He would set the standard and then raise it again and again. He took the best shots his opponents could muster and sent them back with interest. Even trailing Querrey by two sets to none, the expectation was that Djokovic would still find a way to win. He has been so consistent, so routinely excellent, that he made victory predictable, which is probably the highest compliment any athlete can receive.
If he was going to lose at Wimbledon, it was probably going to be against somebody who could overpower him, like Querrey did. The big American fired 31 aces and bullied Djokovic into making uncharacteristic errors. Perhaps Djokovic was feeling the pressure. Perhaps he is carrying an injury. Either way, losing is part of life as a professional athlete. Handling it is a matter of perspective.
"I managed to win four Grand Slams in row in two different seasons, though. I want to focus on that, rather than failure,” Djokovic said.
He’s not the only one. It’s what all of us should be doing too.