In sports, we are always looking for the next big thing. Until we find it. Then we tune out everything else.
We need another couple decades before we christen the next Michael Jordan. LeBron James wanted it, but for every lost championship and free agency decision he makes, we judge him. He is not Michael.
We are not ready for the next Gretzky. Sidney Crosby was an exciting prospect, but without multiple titles, we will not make the Gretzky comparisons.
Roger Federer became tennis' best ever. He won 17 Grand Slams and served as world No. 1 for 302 weeks -- both Open Era records. From 2005 Wimbledon to the 2010 Australian Open, Federer made 18 of 19 Grand Slam finals.
He was the dominant superstar tennis fans had waited for. His reign overlapped with Rafael Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam winner whose nine French Open titles from 2005-2014 make him the most dominant player of all-time on one surface.
When Novak Djokovic started to gain steam a half decade ago, his potential was glossed over. For the past few years, no one really entertained the idea of putting him in the conversation with the sport's best ever. After Djokovic's 10 Grand Slam title on Sunday evening, a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over Federer at U.S. Open, it's time to start having that discussion.
"I'm 28," Djokovic says. "I have always valued the care for my body and my mind and had this holistic approach to life. I always thought this is utmost importance for my tennis.
"I will continue on with the same kind of lifestyle, same kind of approach. I think that kind of approach brought me to where I am today. Hopefully this kind of approach will give me longevity and that I can have many more years to come."
Djokovic's first U.S. Open win over Federer came at the 2010 semifinals. Djokovic, who lost to Federer in his first Grand Slam final at the 2007 U.S. Open and semifinals in 2008 and 2009, beat Federer in five sets. He denied Federer a trip to the U.S. Open final for the first time since 2003. Djokovic, then 23, was giddy after surviving two match points to win.
"To be honest, I was just closing my eyes and hitting my forehand as fast as I can on the match points," he joked in 2010. "If it goes in, it goes in, if it doesn't, another loss to Federer at the U.S. Open."
Unknown at the time was that this would be a passing of the torch. Since that 2010 final, Nadal and Federer have each only won one non-clay Grand Slam. Djokovic has nine. In 2011, he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. On July 4 of that year, Djokovic became the world's first No. 1 not named Federer or Nadal since Andy Roddick on Feb. 1, 2004. Djokovic has held that title for basically three of the past four years.
This is about more than Djokovic just picking up where Federer and Nadal left off. He is chasing history. He won three Grand Slams this year and lost in French Open finals to Stan Wawrinka at the French Open. He is at the top of his game, and to be blunt, no one on the ATP Tour showed this year they could consistently compete with a healthy Djokovic. Federer did beat Djokovic at the Cincinnati Masters earlier this year in two sets, but Djokovic has won all three finals between the two in the past two years.
Djokovic has widened the gap between himself and the rest of the field reminiscent to Federer in the mid-2000s. Djokovic's ten Grand Slams put him past historic names such as Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi. In the Open Era, just Federer (17), Nadal (14), Pete Sampras (14) and Björn Borg (11) have more. Federer, Sampras, Lendl, Connors and John McEnroe are the five players who have been ranked No. 1 for more weeks than Djokovic.
"We got to double digits now," Djokovic says. "I'm obviously flattered and honored to be a part of an elite group of players, legends of our sports, to manage to win this many Grand Slam trophies in their lives and careers."
Federer, 34, still had the crowd significantly on his side Sunday.
"To receive the crowd support that I did receive, I don't consider it normal," Federer says. "But Novak did a good job fending them off."
Federer comes from Switzerland, a nation known for its bank laws and ski mountains. Djokovic was born into a civil war in Serbia. Federer is a Nike athlete who rubs shoulders with names like Woods and Henrik Lundqvist. Djokovic does not wear the flashiest suits or say the wittiest things.
Despite the fans' sentiment, Djokovic kept his focus. He gave Federer 23 break point tries. When it mattered most, Djokovic locked up his serve and allowed only four break points. Djokovic was six for 13 on his break points.
"If we had this conversation maybe five years ago, the situation would be different," Djokovic says. "I'm a more experienced player and I have been in these situations before. I have played Roger 40 times."
Federer had his moments, but Djokovic dictated the pace of play Sunday. He lured Federer into 54 unforced errors and 58 forced errors. This year's final is not a good barometer of Djokovic's legacy versus Federer's legacy, but it showed how long the duo's rivalry has come.
Remember that 23-year-old who was in shock he beat Federer at the U.S. Open? Or the 24-year-old that won three majors?
"I'm a different player, a different person today than I was 2011," he says. "As a father and a husband, experiencing a different variety of things in my life, it's a completely different approach to tennis today. I feel more fulfilled. I feel more complete as a player today than I was in 2011."
A knock on Djokovic is his Grand Slam final losses: He is 10-8, a .556 percentage. But this actually shows how great Djokovic has been. He has been to 18 finals, just two less than Nadal and nine less than Federer. Since the 2010 U.S. Open, Djokovic has made 16 of 21 finals. He has made at least every semifinal except one since 2010 Wimbledon.
"I'm glad that this tradition of losing in finals is broke now," says Djokovic, who is 2-4 in U.S. Open finals.
Let us not forget, Jack Nicklaus, golf's all-time leader with 18 majors, was a major runner-up 19 times, the most all-time.
Federer is still the greatest. But Djokovic has the window to change that.
"He's just really consistent," Federer says. "It seems like there are not many guys that can hang with him. [They] don't have the tools or dare to go forward, or they don't dare to serve and volley against him because he's so good on the return, which he is. He's perfected his game on the hard courts, no doubt about it.
"You think he will win more [majors] after tonight."
No one is in his way. At least when Federer and Nadal were winning, Djokovic was rising up the ranks and was only getting better. The only players challenging Djokovic are the rest of the Big Four: Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray, and arguably Wawrinka, who is trying to make it a Big Five. And their challenges are not much of a threat. Djokovic is 63-5 this year.
All eyes were on Serena Williams at this U.S. Open, but Djokovic actually came closer to the calendar Grand Slam than Williams as he made it to the French finals.
On Saturday night, Djokovic watched 300 for motivation and to pick up some talking points with actor Gerard Butler, who sat in his box Sunday.
"When I embraced all my family and team, I looked at him," Djokovic says, "and said, 'This is Sparta!'"
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.