Since the golden age of tennis began in 2004, the world has been treated to the most remarkable level of quality ever seen on the various different hallowed courts around the world. It’s quite plausible to imagine that the quality we have been treated to over the last 15 years will never be repeated again, but that’s not to say that we have officially seen the last from the big three, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
It may be late in the day and the twilight of their careers but there is one last subplot brewing that promises to shake the ground that lovers of the sport stand on. The main protagonist this time will be Novak Djokovic and the supporting actors will come in the shape of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, with a special cameo appearance likely to be played out by Alexander Zverev.
The return of the Serb
However good you may think Novak Djokovic is at tennis, winning three Grand Slams in a row takes some doing. There’s no doubt that it is indeed a rare feat, even when a player is at the top of their game. However, if you were to think back to June 2018 and the state Djokovic was in both physically and mentally after his shock quarter-final exit at Roland Garros, you’re left feeling even more mesmerised by his recent achievements.
The 31-year-old cut a forlorn figure as he fronted up to the media that day, and cast fresh speculation over his future in the sport by saying he wasn’t sure if he was going to compete at Wimbledon later on in the month.
Fast forward eight months and the same dejected Novak Djokovic has won every Grand Slam on offer since that press conference at the French Open and has catapulted himself into the reckoning to become the greatest player of all time. What a difference half a year can make.
🇷🇸 @DjokerNole Tennis Career:
✅ 15-Time Grand Slam Champion
👏 An all-time great. pic.twitter.com/7n5iJ5jvGp
— SPORF (@Sporf) January 27, 2019
First things first
Djokovic has already admitted that he is motivated by the pursuit of Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles. There’s nothing ambiguous about what the Serb is trying to say and you can be sure he has the Swiss legend’s record firmly locked in his sights. There is, though, the small matter of getting Rafa Nadal out of the crosshairs first before he can begin lining Federer up.
Since Roland Garros in 2018, Djokovic has had it his own way but the next Grand Slam on the calendar will see the players return to the famous clay courts, and that’s normally when Nadal becomes unplayable. Since 2010, Nadal has won the French Open seven times with only Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic halting the procession briefly in 2015 and 2016.
Nadal has justifiably earned the title as the King of Clay and will go into May’s Grand Slam as the favourite. He’s always a popular choice on clay, but young Alexander Zverev will also pose a serious threat to Djokovic’s French Open ambitions.
The 21-year-old German made the quarterfinals last year so don’t let his odds of 10/1 to be crowned champion fool you for a second. There are a lot of young and emerging players who aren’t always priced correctly given the stranglehold the old guard have on the game. A prime example is recent Australian Open champion young Naomi Osaka who was tipped to win Down Under despite being at odds of 14/1.
The real test you’d imagine will be trying to stop Djokovic though as even if Nadal and Zverev are better suited to winning on clay, the Serb will arrive in Paris with his confidence higher than it has ever been during any stage of his career.
Should Djokovic be able to turn the tide and put Nadal and co to the sword on clay this summer, then all bets of the Serb reaching and overtaking Federer will be off.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 27, 2019
How much is enough?
That will be a question Federer would have asked himself after Djokovic won the Australian Open in January. You can almost imagine the 37-year-old quietly musing to himself on the private jet home over a glass of Dom Perignon whether he has indeed won enough Grand Slams to be considered the greatest of all time, given this unexpected surge from Novak Djokovic.
It’s a question he certainly wouldn’t have been asking himself at the beginning of summer last year but how times can change. So, is there a definite threat to Federer’s grand slam record being broken by Djokovic?
Who knows what to think when it comes to these phenomenal players. No one thought Federer would win a Grand Slam at 36 and no one thought Djokovic would ever win again last year but here we are. Statistically speaking, since Federer turned 32, he has only been able to win three more Grand Slams and if Djokovic was to follow the same trajectory after turning 32, then he wouldn’t have done enough to surpass Federer’s record.
There is also the outside chance that Federer rewrites history again and wins another Grand Slam, so really it’s very hard to say what will happen until they are all retired. There is life in the old dogs yet and we could very possibly be coming to the defining act of all of their legacies. The best scripts always have a twist in them and this could be the greatest of them all.