MASON, Ohio -- If not for an upset loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final in June, Novak Djokovic would be on the same track as Serena Williams, heading to next week's U.S. Open with a chance to complete the rare calendar year Grand Slam. Steffi Graf was the last to do it in 1988, but on the men's side, you have to go all the way back to Rod Laver in 1969.
Despite that missed opportunity against Wawrinka at Roland Garros, Djokovic will arrive in New York at the pinnacle of a career that has seen him emerge among the "Big Four" of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and himself to establish firm claim to the world No. 1 ranking. Since 2011, when he won three Grand Slam titles (losing only the French final to Nadal), Djokovic has won eight of the past 19 majors.
Asked before this week's Western & Southern Open to compare his current level to his 2011 season, the 28-year-old Serbian said he's in a completely different place because changes in his personal life following his marriage last year to his wife, Jelena, and the birth of their son, Stefan, last October.
"I'm a father and a husband and a different player," Djokovic said with evident satisfaction. "Results-wise, 2011 is very hard to beat. But this season has been phenomenal."
Djokovic has a 56-4 record going into Sunday's final against Federer. A victory would allow Djokovic to make history as the first player to complete a career sweep of the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, and it would send him to the U.S. Open on a high.
"I've won one title in the U.S. Open and lost four times in the finals, but I don't think finals is a bad result," Djokovic said. "I'm going to keep on doing what I've been doing so far, and hopefully, I can go all the way there."
If he is peaking on the court, Djokovic says there is a correlation with the balance he has achieved between his personal and professional life. "I'm very happy and fulfilled as a person off the court, and that reflects in my results on the court, as well," Djokovic said.
"I'm very connected and very close to my boy and to my wife. It's a different life as a father. I have more responsibility, and I have to adjust to that. But it's the most beautiful thing I have experienced in my life, and I'm trying to cherish every moment spent with him.
"It's not easy when you are separated at this time of his development and growth. Every day makes a huge impact on his evolvement, but they are coming to New York, so I look forward to that."
On his way to the Western & Southern Open final, Djokovic dominated Wawrinka, 6-4, 6-1, in a quarterfinal victory that marked their first meeting since the French final. Wawrinka, a two-time major champion, was impressed with the state of Djokovic's game.
"When you play the No. 1 in the world, and he's playing well, you have no chance," Wawrinka said. "This year, he has amazing year again . . . So even when he's not playing his best, he can beat me the way he did today."
If he can capture his second U.S. Open, it would be the 10th Grand Slam title of Djokovic's career and move him up to a tie for seventh all-time with Bill Tilden. Federer leads with 17 major championships.
So while four runner-up finishes at Flushing Meadows were satisfactory results, Djokovic said it's a mistake to believe he would be happy with second again.
"I'm not aiming for the finals; I'm aiming for the trophy," Djokovic said. "I'm going to strongly visualize that, and hopefully, it can pay off. I'm not the only player to want that so much, but the experience I have had in the past gives me a good head start. Let's see what happens."