Champions Corner: Novak Djokovic – French Open Aftermath

britboxAuthor: britbox
Date: June 8, 2016

Novak Djokovic’s four set win over Andy Murray was his fourth major title in a row. Perhaps more importantly, the world number one now holds all four pieces of the grand slam amulet at the same time and is the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. Only one other man has achieved such a feat, Don Budge way back in 1938.

Yet, over a weekend where the sports headlines were dominated by the passing of the great Muhammad Ali and the NBA playoffs (at least in the United States), the making of this piece of history has flown slightly under the radar for the casual sports fan, even if the significance of the achievement is not lost on hardcore followers of tennis.

Novak Djokovic

Photo: Richard Beese/Flickr

Djokovic is a national hero in his native Serbia but popularity around the globe has been harder to establish. During the 2015 US Open Final against Roger Federer, the raucous New York crowd were so firmly behind the Swiss veteran you could have been mistaken for thinking it was an FC Basel football match in Federer’s hometown. The other party in the troika of record breaking players inhabiting the current era is Rafael Nadal, who enjoys a level of popularity approaching Federer.

Success breeds popularity and it may have been to the detriment of Novak that Federer and Nadal enjoyed success and a level of dominance before the Serb managed to shake off the “Third Man” mantle and gatecrash the silverware party on his own terms.

Sunday’s victory in Paris gave the Serb a Career Grand Slam (winning all four of the majors – Australia, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open) and in doing so, he joins Federer and Nadal as the only active players to have accomplished it. The win also increased his major tally to twelve, a figure that ties him at fourth of all time behind Federer (17), Sampras (14), Nadal (14).

The highest absolute level of tennis ever?

Novak Djokovic might be playing at the highest absolute level of tennis ever seen according to some. Gustavo Kuerten, a three time Roland Garros champion who appeared in a recent commercial with Djokovic was unequivocal in his praise of the Serb’s level: “One of the highest ever and most impossible in tennis.”

However, absolute levels are hard to quantify and the casual fan may still look at relative achievements and as it stands, Novak is still behind Federer and Nadal in the silverware stakes.

The Landscape

A lot can change in tennis very quickly. Nobody would have entertained the thought that John McEnroe would never win another singles major following his dominant 1984 season. Likewise, Mats Wilander won three majors in 1988 and never won another.

However, McEnroe and Wilander had a tumultuous time outside the sport despite their success in it. McEnroe’s highly volatile relationship with Tatum O’Neal is well documented and Wilander would later test positive for using recreational drugs. Djokovic has much stronger support base to work from with a rock solid loyal coaching team and a contented home life.

Of his rivals, Nadal has just turned 30 years old and Federer will be 35 in August. Both players have struggled with injuries this year. Nadal has been troubled for a number of years and struggled to return to the elite levels that saw him winning major titles. The young crop of talented next generation players are still maturing, a fact emphasised by Novak’s brutal elimination of Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals at Roland Garros. Andy Murray has proven time over again that his best can’t match the best of Djokovic in the biggest matches, particularly without Ivan Lendl at his side.

As it stands, the landscape is ripe for Novak Djokovic to continue winning and carving out a place in history that may even surpass the legacies of both Federer and Nadal.

The Calendar Year Grand Slam and the Olympic Games

The Calendar Year Grand Slam (winning all four major titles in the same calendar year) is and has always been the Holy Grail of Tennis. Laver and Budge are the only men to achieved the feat in the history of the sport. Djokovic has two of the four in the bag and will enter Wimbledon and New York as the defending champion and favourite. Winning a Calendar Year Grand Slam would propel the Serb to the top of the ladder in comparison to his peers in terms of the biggest single achievement of all.

With the Rio Olympics on the landscape, an opportunity is also presented to complete a “Golden Slam” – all four majors and an Olympic games gold medal in the same calendar year. Only the great Steffi Graf has achieved this feat and it’s something that has never been accomplished in the men’s game. It presents another opportunity for Novak Djokovic to rewrite the history books and provide separation from his decorated peers with unique achievements of his own.

If that happens, you can be sure he will get his dues then and likely transcend the sport.

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