In June, Djokovic claimed his 23rd major title by lifting the French Open. That made him the winner of the most Grand Slam titles in men’s tennis.
Add to that his winning head-to-head record over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, his two greatest rivals.
Then consider that he has won each of the game’s four majors at least thrice, which Nadal and Federer haven’t.
Factor in, also, that he has won each of the game’s nine Masters 1000 events at least twice. Again something that Nadal and Federer, for all their greatness, haven’t.
Djokovic has also been ranked world No.1 longer than them.
We loved Federer’s elegance, attacking play and single-handed backhand. He has no equals in flair and the art of taking the ball early. At a time when the game was crying out for aesthetic appeal in the early 2000s, the Swiss maestro thrilled audiences with his artistry and effortless power and pace before retiring last year. He won 20 majors and if not for his frequent mental lapses, or the slowing down of traditionally fast surfaces like Wimbledon, he could have had more.
We love Nadal’s warrior spirit, and the way the Spaniard redefined the game with his lefty topspin and angles. We tip our beret to his French Open domination. He has won it 14 times. On clay, Nadal remains the GOAT, and he may be that till
eternity. No male player is winning the French Open 14 times in a hurry. It is the one task even beyond the mighty Djokovic, who has three French titles to his name. It must also be noted that if not for Nadal’s multiple injuries, he might have had more than 22 major titles.
But Djokovic has put them behind. In theory, Nadal could win more big titles when he returns after his injury. But the odds are against him, given that he is 37 and his body has taken a beating from his intense, all-or-nothing style.
Djokovic, 36, is not that young either. But he is better preserved than Nadal. And he seems good enough for another few years at the top.
The magic of Djokovic’s game is not as immediately apparent as Federer’s and Nadal’s. He is machine-like at first glance. But look closer and you begin to appreciate the nuances of Novakball. It is a curation of topspin, flat and slice, of power and touch. His serve, delivered with a graceful economy of movement, is often unbreakable. And then there are his hallmarks. His chewing gum like stretches all around the court, his return of serve at the opponent’s feet and the naggingly deep length of his groundstrokes.
Above all is that one strength which frustrates his opponents and squeezes all life out of them. On big points, Djokovic simply does not miss. To give just one example, he won all six of his tiebreaks at this year’s French Open without making a single unforced error. For years, Nadal was the definition of clutch. But Djokovic has taken it a notch ahead.
Djokovic always had the big personality to match his big frame, both of which are necessary to succeed in men’s tennis. As a child he had seen war and adversity. There were phases in his journey as a pro when he floundered, but he learned the importance of holistic training. He added breathing exercises and yoga to his preparation and famously went gluten-free in 2011. He hasn’t looked back much since.
When asked about the GOAT debate at Wimbledon, he said, “I don't want to enter in these discussions. I'm writing my own history.”
One can’t argue with that anymore.