Who is he GOAT (Greatest of All Time, in English), the best player of all time? The debate has been installed in the world of tennis for several seasons and the three main candidates are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who today share the record of 20 Grand Slam titles, and Novak Djokovic, who escorts them with 19. The Serbian comes running behind his rivals for a while now and is considered by many to be the “third in contention”, but it could settle the discussion this year and what happens at Wimbledon, which will be launched this Monday, could be key for him.
After his festivities in Melbourne and Paris, Nole was just over halfway to getting the Golden slam, win the four “big” and the Olympic gold in the same year. If he shouts champion at the British Open, he will overcome what is perhaps the hardest obstacle in the face of that goal and will be ahead of the Tokyo 2020 event and the US Open, which will be played on a hard surface, the one that best suits his game. And that historical milestone, which until now only Steffi Graf achieved in 1988 among women, will be almost within reach.
“Everything is possible. I have experienced it throughout my career, a great journey so far. I have achieved some things that many thought I could not achieve,” said Djokovic hours after defeating Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros final. to add his 19th trophy in the most important category of the circuit.
In February, Djokovic conquered the Australian Open by beating Medvedev in the final. Photo REUTERS / Kelly Defina
“I have put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam. I already was in 2016, but it all ended with a defeat in the third round at Wimbledon,” the Serbian recalled, lamenting that missed opportunity.
Five years ago, he started the season with a consecration in Australia and then was crowned in the “great” French, with triumphs in both cases against the British Andy Murray. Thus, he became the fourth player in history to win four consecutive Grand Slams, because he had just lifted the trophy at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015. The others were Martina Navratilova (she won six in a row between 1983 and 1984); Graf (1993-1994) and Serena Williams (2002-2003 and 2014-2015). But that does not count towards completing the Grand Slam in the same year.
Nole He then arrived in London with the intact chance of winning the Golden Slam. But on the grass of the AELTC he did not play at his best level and said goodbye to the American Sam querrey in the third round. And the dream of that unprecedented achievement fell.
“I have put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam,” said Djokovic after winning Roland Garros two weeks ago. Photo Christophe Archambault / AFP
It is impossible to know, but perhaps a victory in the English tournament would have given him an extra confidence to later conquer the gold medal in Rio (he lost in the first round to Juan Martín Del Potro) and the title in New York (which he did win by overcoming in the final to the Japanese Kei Nishikori).
There is also no way to predict for sure whether a win in London in 2021 would give him the impetus to later win the gold in Tokyo and the trophy at Flushing Meadows. But the Serbian has already proven more than once in the past that when he sets a goal he does not rest until he achieves it. And if he shouts champion in the All England, the motivation to go for the Golden Slam will be much greater later.
Is Djokovic a candidate in London? Of course. Number one in the world, he will start as the top favorite and will go in search of his sixth title in the contest, which he already won in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019.
Djokovic won his fifth Wimbledon trophy in 2019 by beating Federer in the final. Photo REUTERS / Andrew Couldridge
In addition, it is difficult to find in the previous one a rival who represents a serious threat to him. Because Nadal decided not to play this tournament or the Olympics to take care of his body and prolong his career. Federer, eight times champion of the English competition, is far from his best level, after a 2020 complicated by two operations on his right knee and a 2021 with little competition and irregular performances – they would only meet in a final. And the rest of the players – Daniil Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, to name a few – while they might surprise, they have yet to prove themselves up to the challenge of beating the Serb in a Grand Slam.
For a place in history
Thus, if Djokovic gets his 20th “big” in the English capital, it would not be unreasonable to imagine him closing the season with the Golden Slam in his possession. He would be just the second tennis player to do so and the first in 33 years, since that unforgettable 1988 by Steffi Graf.
The German, then number one in the world, was the great dominator of that season on the women’s circuit, in which she won 73 of 76 games and 11 titles. He was crowned in Australia by defeating Chris Evert, in Paris with a triumph over Natasha Zvereva, in London by beating Navratilova and in New York with a victory against Gabriela Sabatini. And she defeated Argentina again in the final of the Seoul Olympic tournament to complete the first Golden Slam in tennis history.
Steffi Graf won gold at Seoul 1988 and completed the first – and so far only – Golden Slam in tennis history. AFP photo
Then there were other players who added the four “big” trophies and the Olympic gold in singles to their windows, but never in the same year. It was achieved by Andre Agassi, when he won Roland Garros in 1999, three years after being crowned Olympic champion in Atlanta 1996 and already with the other three Grand Slams under his belt. Nadal, who was gold in Beijing 2008 and then completed its harvest in New York in 2010. And Serena Williams, climbing to the top of the podium in London 2012, when she already owned titles in the four most important tournaments.
There are also four other players who won all the Grand Slam in the same season, but not the Olympic gold: the Americans Don budge (1938) and Maureen connolly (1953) and the Australian Rod Laver (1962) before the beginning of the Open Era; and again Laver (1969) and his compatriot Margaret Court (1970) after the unification of the amateur and professional circuits.
But no one achieved what Graf did in 1988. Djokovic is now almost halfway there. The Swedish Mats Wilander, in 1988, and the American Jim Courier, in 1992, had also started with the double in Melbourne and Paris. But they skidded on the grass and the story was cut short. Nole’s next big goal is Wimbledon. If he wins in London, not only will he catch up with Federer and Nadal as top big tournament winners at 20 each, but there will be a question that only he can answer: will anyone be able to stop him from getting the Golden Slam and positioning himself? Like the big favorite to win that argument about who is the best of all time?