Djokovic’s 2015 was the greatest ever men's tennis season

If Novak Djokovic wins the Australian Open title this weekend, he will in doing so extend the most impressive streak ever in men's tennis.

When the current world number one won the Qatar Open earlier this month, it marked the 16th consecutive tournament he had entered in which he reached the final -- a run stretching back exactly one year to a quarter-final defeat at the same event.

In fact, if we measure how good a player's season was based on the average result they achieved across all tournaments they played, Djokovic's 2015 effort was the best ever in the men's game.

His current rival Roger Federer had a golden period during the mid 2000s, and great players from decades past had dominant years of their own, but no single season can match the Serb's for consistently outstanding results.

If an event's champion is given a score of 7, runner-up 6, losing semi-finalist 5 and so on, Djokovic's average tournament score in 2015 was 6.56. His 2015 title wins included three Grand Slams and the World Tour Finals. The Qatar quarter-final loss was the only time he scored less than 6.

The only other player ever to break the 6.5 mark in a calendar year was John McEnroe, who scored 6.53 in 1984, losing out to Djokovic as a result of a shock round-of-64 elimination at the hands of Vijay Amritraj -- at the time world number 70 -- at the Cincinatti Open.

This measure of calendar-year success seems the best way to judge great seasons, but there are other ways we could slice the data to see if Djokovic remains the all-time leader.

One such alternative is to look at the simple number of titles a player won on the ATP Tour.

The scatter plot below shows every season on the men's tour where a player reached two or more Grand Slam finals, or won eight or more ATP tournaments. As we can see, one metric by which another player — in this case Guillermo Vilas — takes top spot is the number of titles won, but Vilas is an outlier: perhaps all is not as it appears. ScrollMove step-by-step through the animated chart to find out more...

This animated scatter plot shows where Djokovic's 2015 season ranks by various metrics on and off the court. Use the buttons below to explore...
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1/6 In 2015 Djokovic reached the final of all but one tournament he entered. John McEnroe achieved the same in 1984, but his earlier exit on that occasion means the Serb's season wins in terms of average tournament performance. Roger Federer's 2005 and 2006 the only other two comparable seasons. Continue scrolling to find out about Guillermo Vilas's remarkable 1977 effort... His season was the best ever when measured by how far he progressed in tournaments. On average, he was more likely than not to lift the trophy at every event he entered
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2/6 In 1977 Vilas won an all-time record 16 ATP titles, but the bulk of these were on clay — some of them at lower profile tournaments — with his losses at big events elsewhere lowering his average performance rating. To illustrate the difference in tournament quality we can change the horizontal axis to show the average quality of tournaments a player entered, measured in terms of the ranking points at stake. Continue scrolling to see the result... In 1977 Guillermo Vilas won a record 16 ATP titles, but the bulk were at lower profile events. Let's change the horizontal axis to show average tournament quality...
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3/6 As we can see, the lower quality of events Vilas entered sees his 1977 campaign swing over to the left. On the right are cases where a player entered only the most competitive tournaments of the year. To play at tournaments rated at an average of more than 1000 points, a player must be a Grand Slam regular and venture very rarely below the elite ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the toughest seasons by this measure have not yielded the highest average performances The lower profile of events Vilas entered sees him swing over to the left. On the right are cases where players only played at the most competitive tournaments of the year...
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4/6 Coming up next, we'll move off court to look at prize money. But readily availably figures on exactly who earned what are unreliable before 1985, so those seasons are excluded from this point on. This time the horizontal axis will show total tournament winnings in a given year... Next up, let's look at prize money. Figures before 1985 are patchy, so we'll exclude those seasons here. The horizontal axis will now show prize money won...
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5/6 All figures are adjusted for inflation, but a combination of Djokovic's supremacy with the rapid growth in total prize money available on the tour, means that his 2015 earnings far outstrip any player's total to date. Only one of the 10 most lucrative seasons in our subset came before the year 2000: Pete Sampras's 1997 winnings equate to around $8.3m in today's money. But we can do better than adjusting for inflation, so next up the horizontal axis will show the share of total tournament prize money won by each player across all events he entered... All figures are adjusted for inflation, but the rapid growth in total prize money on the tour coupled with Djokovic's 2015 dominance mean nobody else comes close...
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6/6 Even after this adjustment, Djokovic's 2015 earnings still come out on top: he took home 16 per cent of all the prize money on offer in men's singles events he participated in last year Close behind are other recent seasons of his and his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but joining them is Ivan Lendl's. In 1986, a dominant Lendl won two Grand Slams and the Tour Finals, taking home almost 15 per cent of the prize money on offer along the way. Continue scrolling to explore players' careers in more detail Finally we have adjusted for prize money inflation by putting a player's share of all winnings at events he entered on the horizontal axis. Again, Djokovic in 2015 wins
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There can be little argument that Djokovic's 2015 performance was the most dominant ever, but the question now is whether he can reach the same heights this year.

Federer managed consecutive all-time-great seasons in 2005 and 2006, but few others have managed to repeat their feats instantly.

The charts below take the same subset of players — those who reached at least two men's singles Grand Slam finals in any given year — but having filtered the players, we're now looking at every one of their seasons, regardless of whether it meets our criteria.

As with the chart at the top of this piece, circles represent tournaments, coloured by the surface they were played on.

We can see players' tournament results rise and fall with age, with most beginning to fade early in their 30s. But the other truly elite seasons — McEnroe in '84, Federer in '05 and '06 — came in their mid-20s.

Dot charts inspired by a design from René Denfeld

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