Is Novak Djokovic the best tennis player ever?

As Novak Djokovic lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Sunday in Melbourne, one question stands out from all others.

Is the Serbian the greatest men’s tennis player of all time? That is a bold statement, and could be a considered a knee-jerk reaction. However, the evidence is slowly starting to mount up in his favour.

Djokovic’s win over Rafael Nadal was his third consecutive Australian Open title, and his fifth Grand Slam victory overall. The past 12 months or so have been virtually faultless for the 24-year-old Serbian, who has swept aside everything in his path. Last year’s Australian Open proved to be the catalyst for an incredible 43-match winning streak, which was ended at the semi-final stage of the French Open.

The setback proved only to be a blip though as the Serbian went on to defeat Nadal at Wimbledon and at the US Open. What is remarkable though is the fact that just a few years ago Djokovic was seen to be destined to finish behind Nadal and Roger Federer at major tournaments and in the rankings. With 16 Grand Slam titles, Federer is considered by the majority of tennis followers to be the greatest of all time.

The Swiss is now 30-years-old, but has barely showed any signs of tiring as his consistent appearances at the pivotal stages of tournaments demonstrate. He may not be the best anymore, but he is still far in front of other top players.

Federer raised the bar in men’s tennis and forced every player to up their game just to try and get within sight of his level. The aura of invincibility that surrounded him from the mid to late 2000s when he was world number one for 237 consecutive weeks meant he was virtually untouchable.

However, when a certain Rafael Nadal came along the shift on the men’s side of tennis started to change. Known as ‘The King of Clay’, the Majorcan, who has won 10 Grand Slams so far in his career, raised the bar yet again for others to follow (or at least try to).

Nadal was now seen to be the greatest of all time, having made Federer look relatively ordinary. Injuries have disrupted the Spaniard’s game over the past year, but he continues to look a formidable opponent.

It seems though that Djokovic may well be having the final say in this fascinating era of men’s tennis.

The Serbian was the world number three for over two years, behind Federer and Nadal but he is now a good distance ahead of them (3,195 points ahead of second-placed Nadal). And there’s no sign of him giving up the number one spot anytime soon.

The 24-year-old is arguably only just coming into his prime and has at least four or five of his best years ahead of him barring injury. If he continues to play the way he has done this past year or so, then it is difficult to see beyond another period of dominance à la Federer in men’s tennis.

Should this happen, then the question of ‘the greatest ever’ will continue to linger. The big question will be whether Djokovic can maintain this level of performance up over the next few years.

This is what stood Federer out – his consistency to perform at his very best over so many years. Nadal tried, but his body could simply not keep up.

It would be a brave statement to write him off completely for future Grand Slams, but his best days may well be behind him. The likelihood is that he will win more Slams, but nowhere near as many as he threatened he would do just a few years ago.

Arguably the amount of extra effort he had to put in in training to ensure he could match Federer on court has come back to haunt him. All this provides the perfect platform for Djokovic to stamp his authority on men’s tennis.

If the Serbian can replicate his recent form over the next few years, then there is no reason to why he cannot go all the way and become the greatest ever men’s tennis player ever.

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London 2012 Guide to…Badminton

  • Badminton is one of the three racket sports on offer at the Olympic Games.

It’s all thanks to the Duke of Beaufort that badminton is played in the UK. The Duke was a military officer, and brought back a version of the game from India in 1873. After introducing the game to acquaintances, the game proved to be extremely popular. Furthermore, since the Duke’s residence was called Badminton House, the name badminton was given to this new sport.

Although the origins of badminton lie in the UK, it is actually Asian players who have tended to dominate the sport in recent history having won an astonishing 69 out of the 76 medals available in the sport’s Olympic history.

  • Badminton began in Barca

The 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona was when badminton was first included on the Olympic schedule. There were four main events – the men’s and women’s singles and doubles competitions. The mixed doubles was introduced at the Games four years later in Atlanta – and it is these five which continue to this day.

  • What’s it all about?

It’s about hitting a shuttlecock around and trying to hit it inside the court, preventing the opponent from hitting an effective return. Badminton is played on a rectangular court which is split by a net, much like tennis except the net is raised in the air.

A game is best of three sets – and a set is won once the player or team reach 21 points. If the score is level at 21-21, then play continues until one side has a two-point advantage. So in theory this could continue endlessly, but in fact if the set still goes on, once it is 29-29, then the side to win the next point wins the set.

  • Wembley

Wembley Arena will be hosting the badminton tournaments at the Games. The tournament takes the normal format of group stages, followed by the knock out stages. 172 athletes will be taking part in the five events.

  • Ones to watch

‘Super Dan’ may sound like an actor, but Lin Dan is in fact a formidable badminton player. He is the current Olympic champion and considered by many to be the best player ever. The current number one, Malaysian Lee Chong Wei who won silver in Beijing in 2008 will no doubt pose a threat once again.

  • Local hopefuls

Nathan Robertson may well be a familiar name; the experienced Brit won a silver medal at the Athens games in 2004. He will be competing in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles. British number one Rajiv Ouseph is another one to keep an eye on in the men’s singles competition.

And Finally…

Look out for: the shuttlecock – it can travel over 250mph during a rally!

Not to be confused with: tennis, or any other racket sport for that matter.

Useless but informative fact: the feathers in a goose’s left wing are the best source for making a shuttlecock.

Badminton in two words: lightening reactions.

Badminton at the Wembley Arena will be on show between 28 July and 5August.

 

London 2012 Guide to…Athletics

  • Athletics

Athletic events form a major part of any summer Olympic Games, attracting athletes from more than 200 nations worldwide. At the Olympics, athletics is divided into four events – track, field, combined and road.

  • Focus on the track…

There will be a total of 24 events on the track in London’s Olympic Stadium, 12 for men and 12 for women, which range from the 100m sprint to the 10,000m race.

  • Focus on the field…

16 field events will be on show in London – eight each for men and women and these can be split into throwing or jumping events. Logically, throwing events see competitors throw objects, which include a javelin or a discus, while in the jumping events, athletes try to jump as high or as far as possible.

  • The combinations…

The decathlon (for men) and heptathlon (for women) see athletes compete in a number of different events and gain points depending on their performances.

  • Take to the road…

The five athletics road events in London this summer will all finish at The Mall. These will be the men’s and women’s marathons and 20km race walks, and the men’s 50km race walk.

  • So it’s all just a load of running?

In terms of the races, essentially yes, although as any athlete will tell you, there’s more to it than just putting one foot in front of the other. The shorter distances, i.e. 100m and 200m, are all about getting up speed as quickly as possible, whereas the longer events require more patience to time your run to perfection.

  • Awesome athletes

The most obvious is Usain Bolt, and if you haven’t heard of him, then frankly where have you been living these past four years? Ever since his explosive, record-breaking run in Beijing, the Jamaican sprinter has lit up every meeting he’s appeared at with his sauntering, easy-going style which delights the crowd.

Yelena Isinbayeva is another famous name to look out for. The Russian pole vaulter won gold in Beijing and Athens and has set an astonishing 27 world records so far in her career. Despite only finishing in sixth place in last year’s World Championships in Daegu, she will certainly want to put that right in August.

  • Local Hopefuls

London promises to be a key time for heptathlete Jessica Ennis. After being unable to compete in Beijing due to injury, the four years since then could hardly have gone better for the 25-year-old. Ennis was world champion in Berlin in 2009 and won a silver medal in 2011, so she will be desperate to keep up this level of performance to become an Olympic champion in London.

Long-distance runner Mo Farah became the first British man to take the world 5,000m title last year in Daegu. This followed a year when he was victorious in the 2010 European Championships, winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m. Farah only reached the semi-finals at the last Olympics, so will be looking to go one better in England’s capital.

And Finally…

Look out for: Usain Bolt – blink and you will more than likely miss him.

Not to be confused with: just the 100m – there are so many more events than just this!

Useless but informative fact: sprinters need approximately two hours to recover before they can achieve another maximum performance.

Athletics in two words: endurance, strength.

The athletics events will take place between Friday 3 August and Sunday 12 August.