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.