The Era of Djokovic
Tennis : Novak Djokovic is now in prime position to become the greatest the sport has ever seen
Flashing that winning smile following his victory in the Australian open, you couldn’t begrudge Novak for having the slightest chip on his shoulder, for when he entered the arena at the beginning of this lop-sided final, some boos rang around the stadium.
He will never feel the love that is felt for the prodigal son Nadal (or his great Swiss rival Federer). Whilst treated with great respect, aside from the occasional ill-mannered boos, Djokovic has always been viewed with admiration but nothing beyond that. He won’t ever be the fans favourite when facing Roger or Rafa, in fact the support is often entirely one sided. So as fans make their feelings known, he is unmoved, relentless in his pursuit of glory and whilst his dominance continues the Joker won’t care, this is the era of Djokovic.
Magnanimous as ever in his latest victory, he said all the generic “right things”, mentioning how fantastic a player his opponent was and citing Rafa’s come back from difficult injuries in the past year. Advertised as a titanic battle between two of the greatest ever to hold court, this final did not live up to its billing. Djokovic swept Nadal aside as if he were nothing more than a journey-man pro, not his greatest rival.
This was not supposed to happen.
Nadal had been in imperious form all tournament, failing to drop a set and contesting just one tie-break in that run, whilst Novak struggled with minor injuries and had to contend with a some tough matches in earlier stages of the tournament. Whilst opinions were conflicted over who was the favourite for the final, nobody saw this level of domination coming.
It doesn’t bode well for the average tennis fan hoping to see the Rafa/Roger rivalry continually renewed.
Djokovic now has to be considered the best player in the world on all surfaces bar clay, where Nadal reigns as king.
I believe these are the two best players in the world and that we will see a re-match of the first grand slam final of the year in which Djokovic could well de-throne the ‘King of the Clay’ at Roland Garros in May. Djokovic knows the French Open is where the ultimate test lies, where we will find out if he can once again hold all 4 slams at once, but more importantly I believe that should he win on the clay (a big ‘if’ I know), that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could win all 4 grand slams this calendar year.
Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here but the sheer level of dominance he purveyed over the no.2 ranked player in the world in Australia, suggests to me that this is not totally unrealistic. Nobody outside of Rafa and Roger can challenge Novak when he is near top form, some may argue the case of the young German Alexander Zverev (world number 3) but he has yet to find top form at a grand slam and is prone to petulance, (smashing rackets seems to be one of his preferred past-times) a quality that will be exposed versus the calm and collected Djokovic.
Winning in Australia means Djokovic has now won the last 3 grand slams, bringing his overall grand slam haul to 15 titles, 2 behind Nadal and 5 behind the ageing Roger Federer. Federer is right now still considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time and rightly so, but will this be the case in a couple of years time?
How many more slams is he likely to win? Maybe one/two more Wimbledon’s, maybe a US open? He is no longer the iron man who once ruled over tennis, unable to sustain playing in every major and succumbing to some age-related fatigue.
Rafael Nadal has had his own problems with injuries undergoing surgeries in the last year and whilst he can continue to rely on near annual success in France, Sundays final did not give me much confidence that he can rival Djokovic consistently.
Much has been talked about some of the young players on tour, Zverev, Tsitsipas, Kyrgios etc, none have made the step up as of yet. Novak is back to the machine-like, error and injury free force that dominated tennis 2/3 years ago. In fact I would argue he looked better than he has ever done before in his straight sets victory in Melbourne. He is a man on a mission. The sole goal being acquiring major titles. I won’t be betting against him having the most grand slams titles when he is finished.
When Novak Djokovic eventually retires from tennis, I do believe that he will be regarded as the best to have ever graced a tennis court.