The only match that either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic lost in London was the final, when Nadal fell to Djokovic. It was a good summary of the season as a whole. The top two weren’t undefeated for the entire season, but they might as well have been.
Between them, Rafa and Novak lost only 16 matches this year, six of them to each other. Fittingly, they split those six matches. No single player poses a serious threat to their dominance. Only Juan Martin del Potro defeated both this year, and he lost his five other encounters with the top-ranked duo. The injured Andy Murray remains only a wildcard, having split Grand Slam finals with Djokovic this year but without having played Nadal since 2011.
Barring a huge upset loss in Davis Cup, Djokovic will end the season with the best-ever winning percentage for a #2-ranked player. His 88.9% just edges out the 88.7% posted by Nadal in 2005, when he finished second to Roger Federer. In the last thirty years, only five other #2’s won at least 85% of their matches.
Taking these six prior pairs as the best single-year twosomes the ATP has recently produced, it’s surprising to see what happened to them the following year. In three of those seasons, neither of the ultra-dominant duos finished the next season at #1. A third player overcame them both.
Here is the list of the seven most dominant twosomes of the last thirty years, along with their year-end rankings 12 months after the end of their notable seasons (Nx):
Yr #1 W-L Nx #2 W-L Nx 83 John McEnroe 62-9 1 Mats Wilander 74-11 4 85 Ivan Lendl 83-7 1 John McEnroe 72-10 14 87 Ivan Lendl 70-7 2 Stefan Edberg 76-12 5 89 Ivan Lendl 80-7 3 Boris Becker 58-8 2 05 Roger Federer 81-4 1 Rafael Nadal 79-10 2 12 Novak Djokovic 75-12 2 Roger Federer 74-13 6 13 Rafael Nadal 76-7 ? Novak Djokovic 72-9 ?
In 1988, Mats Wilander overcame both Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg to claim the #1 position. In 1990, it was Edberg who leapfrogged Lendl and Boris Becker. This year, of course, Nadal reclaimed the top spot from last year’s top two of Djokovic and Federer.
Those of us who watched the Tour Finals for the last week might find it hard to imagine that anyone–certainly not any of the other six men in London–would outperform either Rafa or Novak over the course of a season. But injuries strike, slumps take hold, and–unlikely as it may seem in 2013–young players emerge and dominate. For all of the radical changes in the game since the late 80s, these precedents serve as an important reminder of the unpredictability of tennis.