A member of tennis’ big three, alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic has become synonymous with the racket sport since his breakthrough in 2008 — when he ended the Swiss’ and Spaniard’s run of 11 consecutive Grand Slam titles with a victory at the Australian Open, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a rare Federer/Nadal-less final.
Since then, the Serbian has helped them both form a deadly trio in men’s tennis — one that would go on to win 45 of the next 55 Grand Slam titles, up to and including Nadal’s recent victory at the Australian Open back at the beginning of the year. A win that moved the Manacor native one clear of his big three counterparts in the race to become the sport’s most successful male.
Indeed, Djokovic is level with Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles — which is a remarkable feat. And with the Swiss legend’s career in its twilight, and his Grand Slam winning days appearing to be all but over thanks to persistent injuries that have kept him out of action for so long now, you’d imagine Djokovic will soon surpass him with a 21st slam.
Nadal will be hoping that the 2022 French Open currently underway at Roland-Garros, which he is the favourite to win in the tennis odds, will be enough to see him pull two Grand Slams clear of the chasing pack. But he too has suffered injuries throughout his career, and you’d have to say that Djokovic should have the longevity to bag more slams than them both by the time he hangs up his racket.
Yet, it seems the 35-year-old will never be held in the same regard as Federer and Nadal. When you talk about the best men’s tennis player of all time, or at least of this generation, the argument is usually between Nadal and Federer — with the latter tending to edge the dispute despite being overtaken by his old foe.
However, if you look at all three of their records, Djokovic has perhaps shown that he is a more complete player than Nadal. The Spaniard has dominated the clay with 13 of his 21 wins coming at Roland-Garros, the Serbian’s 20 titles are split between nine Australian Opens, six Wimbledon triumphs, three US Opens and two French Opens.
Federer would probably be well clear of them both had his career not curtailed through injury in the last couple of years, as he too is an all-rounder — with his sole victory on the red surface of the French Open perhaps letting him down a bit in the best player debate.
But back to Djokovic, it is his off-court antics that have led to a large shadow being cast over his career. Yes, sports people should be remembered and judged for what they achieve in their specialism, but the fact that Federer and Nadal are just as likeable off the court as they are on it has not done Djokovic any favours.
His stance on coronavirus, and his controversial behaviour during the peak of the pandemic appear to have left a lasting tarnish on his career. Boos have rung out around Roland-Garros when Djokovic has taken the courts in Paris thus far, which he has perhaps used in his favour to help spur him on as he roared back at the crowds after they jeered his winning points.
He certainly won’t mind being the pantomime villain at Roland-Garros if he is to win a third title in Paris, which is by no means an outside chance in the betting on French Open, but it will be interesting to see if this is now something Djokovic will have to put up with for the rest of his playing days, or will it simply all be forgotten about when crowds begin to settle back in after a couple of years away.
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Novak_Djokovic_Queen%27s_Club_2018.jpg