Having won four of the past five majors, the Serbian legend has halved his gap from Federer’s Grand Slam count - which for many remains the benchmark of greatness - in a matter of 12 months
A similar headline was published in this space after Novak Djokovic battered Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open in January. This time the World No 1 has virtually stolen the Wimbledon title from his other Big Three rival, Roger Federer, in the longest final ever contested at SW19.
While Djokovic (16) is still chasing the Grand Slam tallies of Nadal (18) and Federer (20), in many aspects he has already achieved what his two greatest rivals never have. And hence, we’ll repeat another claim made in the piece written after Djokovic’s Australian Open triumph: the Serb has a strong case for being the greatest male tennis player of all time even if he hangs up his raquet tomorrow.
Of course, that claim has become more resounding with another major under his belt. However, as has been reiterated by many in the recent past, a proper debate on who the GOAT is can only be had once each of the three greatest of all time have hung up their racquet. Till then we can only conjecture where the three of them will finish.
Having won four of the past five majors, Djokovic has halved his gap from Federer’s Grand Slam count - which for many remains the benchmark of greatness - in a matter of 12 months. It’s hard to see Djokovic not crossing 20 by the time he’s done; and hence the only way Federer - or indeed Nadal - can top that number, when all is said and done, is if they win more majors, in turn taking some off Djokovic’s tally - as the World No 1 has done to his rivals over the past year.
Indeed, sport is a lot more than the trophy count. For instance, Djokovic has won the past two Wimbledon finals in outrageously contrasting circumstances - and yet will only get one trophy for each effort.
Last Sunday, he was involved in one of the greatest Wimbledon finals of all-time. It was the first time since 1948 that a player had overcome Championship points to win Wimbledon. It was the third time that Djokovic had come from match point down against Federer at the deep-end of a major - the semifinals of 2010 and 2011 US Open, were two other instances.
Last year, Djokovic overcame breakpoints in the fifth set against Nadal in the epic semifinal to win the contest and eventually Wimbledon. Last year the Spaniard dominated the Serb for most of the contest and came up short - this time it was the Swiss who was much the stronger player for large share of the final, and yet came up short.
There has never been a better clutch player in all of men’s tennis than Djokovic. His mental strength is second to none, and that’s what often gives him the edge over the other members of Big Three.
When we say that Djokovic already has a case for all-time greatness it’s because the quality of his numbers is that much more impressive. All of his 16 majors have come in the toughest era of men’s tennis, where not only Federer and Nadal were vying for Grand Slam glory, there were Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka - with six majors between them, three of which came after beating Djokovic in the final -in the mix as well.
Compare this to Federer, 12 of whose majors came between 2003-2007, before Djokovic had won his first major, or Nadal had won his first non-clay major - in a considerably weak era. Similarly, 12 of Nadal’s 18 majors have been at the French, making his numbers skewed as well. Additionally, Djokovic has won all ATP Masters 1000 events, unlike anyone else in history.
Of course, one could similarly make cases for Federer and Nadal as well. For, each would have their own gauge for greatness. However, it wouldn’t be slightest bit surprising, if many of the accolades that give those two the edge, are overtaken once Djokovic calls it a day.
Indeed, one can never be certain of what’s to come in sports. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a man on the brink of his 38th birthday being on the brink of winning Wimbledon. Despite, many jumping toward pulling the curtain for him, Federer is proving time and again that he still has what it takes to win more majors.
Nadal, similarly, showed all the hunger to continue on from yet another Roland Garros triumph at Wimbledon. While injuries have halted his career on many an occasion, it looks as though the Spaniard is willing to suffer a few more years and go on.
Djokovic might be the dominant force in men’s tennis now, but the Big Three will continue to push each other towards unparalleled greatness. The only way that can be halted is if the Next Gen finally steps up at majors. And as was evident at Wimbledon, that doesn’t seem like happening anytime soon.