Love or hate him, Novak Djokovic deserves his dues as the King of Tennis
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CAPE TOWN - Novak Djokovic will never have the mass appeal of Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal, but it must be finally acknowledged that he is the greatest man to play the game in the modern era.
A decade ago, you’d never have ventured past Federer as the ultimate player and this only by a whisker over Nadal, whose critics will always argue that Nadal is the greatest clay court specialist but on all surfaces was still second to Federer.
Djokovic doesn’t play with Federer’s poetry and he will never have the mongrel of Nadal, but if you took the best of Nadal’s game and combined it with the best of Federer, then you have Novak Djokovic.
The 34-year-old Serbian has always been more outspoken and more controversial than Federer and Nadal, off the court and in his antics on the court, but his tennis has never been less effective and he will retire with a winning advantage in the head-tohead meetings against Federer and Nadal.
Djokovic, throughout the years, has been in the shadows of Federer and Nadal, primarily because they came a few years before him, but in 2021, in the most chaotic of Covid-enforced years, Djokovic has finally emerged into the brightest of lights, with Federer and Nadal’s two-decade shine, perhaps understandably, losing its glare.
This is Djokovic’s time and when you read this, he would have advanced to his 11th Wimbledon final, having won his 41st Grand Slam semi-final against 22-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who yesterday had played in his first Grand Slam semi-final.
At the time of writing, Djokovic had beaten Shapovalov six successive times and that statistic should read seven today and come tomorrow evening Djokovic will be the Wimbledon champion for the sixth time and he will equal Federer and Nadal’s 20 Grand Slam titles.
Some reports from Wimbledon this year suggested a kind draw for the world’s number one and best player and one particular sentence spoke of Djokovic’s biggest challenge at Wimbledon in 2021 being staying upright and interested, such was the lack of opposition.
It is hard to argue with the latter because he has been so dominant and none among the youthful brigade has forced him to raise a sweat.
Djokovic’s probable semi-final win would make it 16 out of 17 Grand Slam semi-final wins and his 20th successive match victory at Wimbledon, having won the 2018 and 2019 titles. The Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of 2020’s tournament.
Djokovic has always acknowledged the presence of Federer and Nadal and their respective contributions to tennis but he has equally always spoken about his own ambitions and his own judgement when it comes to his tennis legacy.
“I am not chasing anybody,” Djokovic told the media earlier this week. “I am making my own path and my own journey, my own history. I am privileged to be part of history in this sport that I love. I know about a lot of stats. I don’t know about all of them, but they do motivate me even more to play my best tennis at the events that count the most in our sport.”
Those statistics make for remarkable reading: He has a 76-10 winloss record at Wimbledon and victory tomorrow would make for a third successive Wimbledon title. Since 2018, Djokovic has won seven of the 13 Grand Slams, with two Wimbledon titles added to his three Australian Opens, one US Open and this year’s French Open. He has won all nine Australian Open finals.
While so much love has gone the way of Federer and Nadal in the past decade, the records have gone the way of Djokovic, who is the only player to win every one of the so-called ‘big titles’ on the ATP Tour, which consists of the four Grand Slams, the nine ATP Masters and the ATP Finals. He is also the only player (in the Open Era) to win a double career Grand Slam.
Djokovic leads Federer (27-23) and Nadal (30-28) and is the only player to have beaten Federer and Nadal at all four Grand Slam events. He is the only one to beat Federer and Nadal in multiple Grand Slam finals, multiple Masters finals and in the final of the season-ending Championship.
Federer, considered without comparison at Wimbledon with an 87% career win-loss record, has also lost three of his four matches against Djokovic at Wimbledon, with Djokovic’s three wins all coming in the final.
Grass is a surface that Djokovic always considered one of his least favourite and on his most favoured hard court, he has 20-18 career wins against Federer and 20-7 against Nadal.
The perception is also decidedly different to fact when it comes to Djokovic’s fighting instincts and it is a perception based on a few instances early on in his career when he retired hurt. The facts are that in five-set matches, Djokovic has a 77% win rate, with Nadal 63% and Federer 58%.
Djokovic’s record against top 10 opponents, at 69%, also shades Federer and Nadal’s 64% return and he also has the best record against top 5 opponents. He has also earned the most prize money and no men’s player has ever been ranked No 1 for as many consecutive weeks as he currently has been, which is in excess of 330.
Love him or loathe him, there is no disputing Novak Djokovic is the King of Tennis.