The year’s final major is now less than a week away, and all eyes will be on the defending champions, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, to see if they can repeat in 2019.
Novak Djokovic once said: “This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you got a moment, it’s a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying ‘This Is a Large Crisis’.”
Apologies, how flippant of me. The above quote was said by fictional character Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder Goes Forth.
What Djokovic really said was this: “I am experiencing a little bit of a crisis, if you want to call it that.”
The Serb uttered those words after shockingly parting ways with his entire coaching team in May 2017.
Even Marian Vajda, Djokovic’s mentor and father-like figure for more than a decade, fell by the wayside in what the Serb described as ‘shock therapy’.
In less than 12 months, Djokovic had gone from holding all four majors at once, something not even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had achieved, to not holding any at all.
For the best part of two years after his 2016 French Open triumph, Djokovic suffered early defeats in slams, lost to players outside of the top 100, had rumoured off-the-court woes and an elbow injury to boot.
Everything that could have gone wrong pretty much did go wrong for the troubled former world number one.
Some were even writing his tennis obituary when he fell outside the top 20 and posted a record of six wins and six losses earlier this year.
However, the Serb’s indomitable spirit was just lying dormant.
To paraphrase William Ernest Henley in his poem Invictus, Djokovic’s head was bloody, but unbowed. He was still the master of his fate, he was still the captain of his soul.
And now, in a turnaround that very few would have envisaged, Djokovic has a real shot of ending 2018 as world number one.
Since his loss to British number one, Kyle Edmund, at the Madrid Masters in May, Djokovic has won 33 matches and lost a paltry four times.
In that run he claimed his 13th grand slam win at Wimbledon, completed the career ‘Golden Masters’ by finally winning Cincinnati and now he is in the US Open final once more.
2018 looked like it would be another year for Federer and Nadal, but, once again, Djokovic has torn up the script.
Out of nowhere, Djokovic could end up winning more slams this year than anyone else.
This season is almost a microcosm of the Serb’s career post 2010. He stormed every bastion to overthrow Federer and Nadal and now he wants more.
Federer’s 2017 Australian Open win was, arguably, the most miraculous recovery the sport has ever witnessed.
How he came back after a lengthy injury layoff to come through a wretched draw and then beat Nadal of all people in a fifth set classic – I will never know.
That season was nothing short of staggering for the then 35/36-year-old.
But that win set the tone for what could come in 2018. After playing that well to win down under, it seemed that he was destined to have a great season because his level of play was outstanding.
The same could be said for Nadal in 2013.
Despite being written off, the Spaniard came roaring back from injury and went on to win two slams, a handful of masters and finished the year as world number one.
But what Djokovic, who was putting in abject performances earlier on in 2018, has achieved in recent months seems so out of the blue.
Previously it was the Fedal show, but now Djokovic is threatening to take over again – from crisis to ecstasy.
If the 31-year-old beats Juan Martin Del Potro in Sunday’s US Open final, he will tie Pete Sampras on 14 slams, will be just over 1,000 points behind Nadal in the ATP Race and is heading into a part of the season where, in the past, he has been virtually unstoppable.
That point deficit may seem quite a big margin, but if Nadal takes an extended break to recover from his knee injury, Djokovic could finish as the year-end number one for the fifth time, even if he fails to win in New York.
If he ends the year at the top of the rostrum again, that would put him ahead of Nadal (4) and put him level with Federer and Jimmy Connors.
So, as the late great darts commentator Sid Waddell once said, could this be ‘the greatest comeback since Lazarus?’