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Tennis review of the year

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 26-12-2015 skysports.com

One man has totally and utterly dominated the tennis landscape in 2015, taking the game to not just another planet, but hurtling towards a new galaxy. 

Novak Djokovic has been the ultimate man of steel winning everything under the sun and ending the season as the world's best.

Not since 2006, when Roger Federer won three out of the four slams and the year-ending Championships, compiling a 92-5 win-loss record, winning 12 calendar titles, has one man been so far ahead of the rest.

The Serb matched the great man in Slams as well as ending his remarkable campaign with an 82-6 record, winning 11 calendar titles, and reaching the final in 15 out of 16 tournaments.

Djokovic was so fantastic he nearly lapped world No 2 Andy Murray in rankings points while walking away with a cool $21million (£14m) in winnings - not a bad year's work!

But let's rewind almost 12 months to the first major of the year - the Australian Open - and it turned out to be the same old story for two old foes.

The Wizard of Oz

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The hard plexicushion in Melbourne has become a dream surface for Djokovic, with his game hitting perfection at times. Awaiting the Serb in the final was his good friend Murray for the third time since 2011. And after a remarkable two hours and 32 minutes of gruelling play in the Australian heat and humidity, the match was tied at one set all following two fascinating tie-breaks.

In a rollercoaster clash which featured 14 breaks of serve, Murray looked to take the upper-hand after making an early break in the third before handing it straight back. From then on Djokovic took over, producing his full repertoire of shots to come through 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-0 at 11.23pm local time.

He collected his fifth title in Australia overall and joined Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ken Rosewall and Fred Perry with eight Grand Slam titles. For Murray, it was yet more heartbreak in a major final, so it was back to the drawing board as his quest for a maiden Australian Open crown continued.

Indian Wells & Miami

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Two of the big early season ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events began Stateside with the impressive Indian Wells Tennis Garden hosting the unofficial fifth major. Djokovic underlined his status as the world's best player by capturing his 50th tour-level title against 33-year-old Federer 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 and winning the tournament for the fourth time.

In sunny Miami, Djokovic extended his winning streak against Murray to seven matches with victory in the final. But just as they had done at the Australian Open, both men went at it hammer and tongs for the first two sets until the top seed broke his opponent's resistance and strolled away with the decider with a bagel set.

The win helped him equal Rafael Nadal's record of 141 weeks at the top of the rankings. It was also his 22nd Masters Series title, his 10th successive victory in a Masters Series final, and he became the first player to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double on three occasions.

Clay feat

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In picturesque Monte Carlo, Djokovic made a perfect start to his clay-court season by becoming the first player ever to win the year's first three Masters Series tournaments when he added the Monte Carlo trophy to his titles in America. He struck a significant psychological blow by beating Nadal on his favourite surface in the semi-finals before facing surprise finalist Tomas Berdych who rolled the dice to give him his stiffest test of the week, but the best player in the world triumphed 7-5 4-6 6-3 - his 23rd Masters Series title.

His only defeat since the first week of the season (the other being Ivo Karlovic) was to Federer in the Dubai final. A flawless Djokovic faced the Swiss maestro in a Roman duel a fortnight later and overtook him with his 24 Masters-level title after a 6-4 6-3 victory - a 22nd win on the bounce.

Over in Madrid, Murray was busy giving Nadal a lesson in clay-court tennis, overwhelming the master on dirt, and silencing his adoring fans to lift his maiden Masters 1000 on the surface thanks to a joyous 6-3 6-2 win meaning he had won all nine matches he had played since marrying Kim Sears.

Véritable surprise dans Paris...

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Djokovic headed to Roland Garros with an unblemished clay-court record for the season and with his eyes firmly set on the prize of a maiden crown in Paris. All looked to be going swimmingly as he systematically crushed and then dethroned 'King of Clay' Nadal in straight sets on an awe-struck Court Philippe Chatrier, inflicting only his second defeat at the tournament in 71 matches - 7-5 6-3 6-1.

A greater test came in the semi-finals when Murray - fresh from winning back-to-back clay-court titles in Munich and Madrid - threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic in a thrilling rain-delayed match-up to take it to a deciding fifth. But, once again, the world's greatest grinder prevailed 6-1 to reach the final against Stan Wawrinka.

With the Serb riding on a 28-match winning streak, another victory would have made him only the eighth man to complete the set of all four Grand Slam titles. The world No 1 was, though, for the first time looking decidedly fatigued and on a hot Parisian summer's day, the unassuming Swiss star defied all odds to win the title after a shock four-set victory - one for the romantics!

He produced quite scintillating tennis at times to win 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 and a beautiful backhand winner down the line on match point to remember. It wasn't to be for Djokovic who was feeling the pressure of chasing the one title in tennis he has never won. For only four men - Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Federer and Nadal - have completed the set of major titles in the Open era.

Eating the grass ... again!

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Federer triumphed in Halle for his 86th tour-level crown, 15th on grass, in a tournament big Ivo Karlovic hit a record 45 aces in a best-of-three set match, while at Queen's Murray was busy collecting a record-equalling fourth title just in time for another bid at winning his second Wimbledon title.

Sadly, his dreams came to a shuddering halt when Federer constructed a tennis masterclass to defeat the British No 1 7-5 7-5 6-4. Waiting in the final for the seven-time champion was that man Djokovic.

The relentless Serb showed greater mental fortitude to pounce over an anxious Federer who was varying topspin, slice, serve-and-volley and powerful baseline exchanges, but ultimately made too many costly errors at crucial times. Djokovic racked up his third Wimbledon championship and ninth Grand Slam crown with a 7-6 (7-1) 6-7 (10-12) 6-4 6-3 success before continuing his tradition of eating the Centre Court grass - a celebration which goes back to his dreams of winning at the All England Club as a child.

"I'm 28," he said. "I feel good. I don't feel old. I have hopefully many more years in front of me. I'm going to try to push my own limits and see how far I can go really with titles and with myself playing on this high level."

Hardcourt swing

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The tennis roadshow headed to Montreal and Cincinnati ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year in The Big Apple. Murray finally ended an eight-match hoodoo - stretching back to the 2013 Wimbledon final - against Djokovic in Canada with an ultra-aggressive 6-4 4-6 6-3 win and then revealed the news that his coach Amelie Mauresmo gave birth to a baby boy - double joy! It also ended Djokovic's 12-match winning streak in ATP Masters 1000 finals.

The Serb headed to Cincinnati with dreams of becoming the first player in history to complete the Career Golden Masters by winning all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, but his hopes were crushed by a dazzling and eloquent Federer in the final. The effervescent Swiss wore down his opponent to record an emphatic 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 victory and rekindle hopes of landing an 18th major crown at the US Open at the age of 34.

So to Flushing Meadows...

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Every man and his dog was now willing Federer to go on a claim that illusive 18th major as he strolled his way through to the final along with an awe-inspiring Djokovic. All the other major contenders fell by the wayside. Nadal's miserable year continued as the 14-time major champion threw away a two-set lead to lose to Italy's Fabio Fognini meaning he ended the season without a major title for the first time since 2004.

Murray, meanwhile, saw his run of reaching 18 successive Grand Slam quarter-finals come to an end following a thrill-a-minute fourth round exit at the hands of Kevin Anderson.

So to the grand finale which was to be a repeat of the Wimbledon final. Federer's entrance on Arthur Ashe Stadium was so spine-tingling it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The capacity crowd were pumped up hoping to see something quite exceptional between the two top players and they weren't to be disappointed.

In their 42nd encounter, Djokovic defence was simply impregnable and not even Federer's new 'sneak-attack' or 'SABR' could punish 'The Serbinator'. Djokovic and his tangerine-flecked trainers eventually pulled away from the Swiss on the biggest stages, recording a 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-4 win under the New York lights for a 10th major.

"Coming on court knowing you are playing against probably the best player in the game adds a little bit more pressure," said the world No 1. "I knew he was going to be very aggressive. It was a quite incredible evening for me." It was no surprise to see Djokovic stroll to a fifth ATP World Tour Finals title at London's O2 to end the year just as he had started - in winning ways.

The New Year will raise new questions...

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Can anyone stop the Djokovic juggernaut? Will Murray ever win a third major? Can Federer add to his 17 Grand Slams? Will Nadal ever return to his best? Or will Stan assert his authority and hold down fourth spot in the world rankings?

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