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  Opinion   Edit  14 Jun 2023  AA Edit | Djokovic in a league of his own

AA Edit | Djokovic in a league of his own

Published : Jun 14, 2023, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Jun 14, 2023, 12:15 am IST

Djokovic never aspired to win popularity contests, just Grand Slams with a singular mental focus that is more easily said than achieved

Novak Djokovic. (Photo: AFP)
 Novak Djokovic. (Photo: AFP)

The data points only in one direction. Statistically, Novak Djokovic is the most successful men’s player in tennis history with 23 Grand Slam victories and who has won each of the four Grand Slam events at least thrice, which no one has, not even the inestimable Rafael Nadal who won 22 Grand Slams. But Djokovic would leave it to others to decide whether he is ‘the Goat’ as the tennis abbreviation has it to describe the ‘greatest player of all time’.

Djokovic never aspired to win popularity contests, just Grand Slams with a singular mental focus that is more easily said than achieved. For all his accomplishments on court, they often boo him, for various reasons including whispered charges of gamesmanship or, as in the latest instance, because the emerging superstar of world tennis, Carlos Alcaraz, was physically unable to challenge him in the French Open semifinal due to cramps, which was no fault of Djokovic.

The Serbian is far from done yet. The 36-year-old has shifted focus to completing a calendar Grand Slam that he missed narrowly two years ago when he lost the US Open tamely. Such listlessness was, however, far from him in days when he was the underdog among the three greats and was chasing Roger Federer and Nadal in the race for Grand Slam titles. Sheer perseverance has been as much Djokovic’s forte as the rest of his tennis armoury of ground strokes, played with a relentlessness and a precision on every type of surface.

A measure of his greatness could be gleaned from situations in the recent French Open when he was forced into playing six tiebreakers, including against Karen Khachanov and Alcaraz, when he did not make a single unforced error, finding a way to get past every challenge in the highest pressure points in a tennis match.

His longtime coach, Goran Ivanisevic, describes it as the ‘software’ in his head that he can switch on in every Grand Slam event to transform into a hungry and motivated tennis player who eliminates errors in the pursuit of perfection, He may not have the indescribable grace of a Federer or the bravado of Nadal. But Djokovic is somehow the more complete package now — fitter, mentally stronger and more thorough in dominating the metronomic exchanges on a tennis court. The debate about his greatness goes on even as his hunt for Grand Slams seems eternal.

Tags: novak djokovic, rafael nadal, grand slam, roger federer