Novak Djokovic is inevitable – how the Serb ended the greatest debate of all time

Novak Djokovic didn’t want to say it, but by then enough people were already doing it for him. By winning the French Open and claiming a historic 23rd Grand Slam title, the Serb became not only the most successful male player of all time, but also the greatest.

If you’re someone who finds the GOAT debate tiring, reductive, or pointless, then good news: Djokovic has taken the first step to ending the conversation. He has the power play and, at 36, remains just as motivated to extend his lead by adding more.

And yes, if you ignore the records, you can always argue for Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, because of the Swiss’ style and the way he elevated the sport, or the Spaniard’s substance and his unprecedented superiority on clay. Without either player, Djokovic wouldn’t have become the player he is today, but that’s also part of the problem: setting such an absurdly high bar and having Djokovic chase it. his whole life has created a player who in the past year has reached a level which is the highest the sport has ever known.

Perhaps Federer and Nadal also had heights where winning Grand Slam titles and major finals became inevitable, but the window to make the case for them is closing. It will be impossible for even the most ardent Federer or Nadal fans to challenge Djokovic if his total ends at 24, 25 or more. And he hasn’t finished yet.

“These two guys have been on my mind a lot over the past 15 years,” Djokovic said. “So it’s amazing to know that I’m one step ahead. I don’t want to say I’m the greatest because I think that’s disrespectful to all the great champions in different eras of our sport who was played in a completely different way than it is played today.

“So I leave those kinds of discussions about who is the greatest to someone else. I, of course, have enormous faith, trust and confidence in myself and all that I am, who I am. I am and what I am capable of I I feel incredibly proud, fulfilled Of course the journey is still not over I feel like if I win Grand Slams why even think about putting on end to a career that has already lasted 20 years?

“I always feel motivated, I always feel inspired to play the best tennis at these tournaments. I’m already looking forward to Wimbledon.”

“I think he has a lot more in his body,” said Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach and the former Wimbledon champion, who has a knack for words when it comes to putting accomplishments into perspective. of the Serbian after Grand Slam victories. “He has this software in his head that he can change when a grand slam comes around. The day we got here he was better, he was more motivated, he was hungrier.”

Novak Djokovic points to 23 on his jacket as he holds the Roland-Garros trophy (Thibault Camus/AP) (AP)

Novak Djokovic points to 23 on his jacket as he holds the Roland-Garros trophy (Thibault Camus/AP) (AP)

He gets better with age: Djokovic was 12-9 in Grand Slam finals when he was 20; he’s 11-2 in Grand Slam finals in his 30s; he has won six of the last 10 Grand Slams, including the two he was unable to attend at the Australian Open and the US Open. “He’s amazing,” Ivanisevic said, “and he always moves like a cat on the pitch.” His service is the best in the world. His mentality is stronger than ever and becomes more impressive the more he wins. It just doesn’t miss any big points. The most remarkable stat from Roland Garros this year is not Djokovic’s 23rd Grand Slam, but the fact that he won all six tiebreakers he played without committing a single unforced error.

It’s all part of his aura. Carlos Alcaraz, who arrived at Roland-Garros as world No. 1 and tournament favorite, felt it in the semi-finals. Facing Djokovic at a Grand Slam made the young Spaniard tense and nervous, and caused him full body cramps for the first time in his career. In the final, Casper Ruud played as well as he could have dreamed of in the first set, but was then overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge he faced after Djokovic raised his level to win the tie- break. “You think, you know, the F-word because you just lost a really tough set against Novak,” Ruud said. “He’s going to lean on it and it’s hard to bounce back from that.”

“He takes your legs, then he takes your soul,” Ivanisevic said, taking a famous line from former world number 1 Andy Roddick about what Djokovic does to his opponent and adding a bit more: “Then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you’re dead goodbye thank you for coming.

This mentality was forged from an early age. Djokovic grew up in war-torn Serbia and his path to the top was shaped by adversity. “My upbringing was probably different from most other players of my generation,” he said on Sunday, with Djokovic wanting to remember how far he had come. When he achieved his lifelong dream of winning a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2008, the path to becoming the greatest player in the world stretched far ahead. Federer has set the bar. Nadal raised her. Djokovic spent 15 years chasing them, ticking off a host of records and important milestones along the way, but the big slam race was always going to be the one that influenced final opinions.

Djokovic is the ultimate product of his surroundings and in 2021 his pursuit of greatness has him one win away from completing the first Grand Slam on the men’s tennis calendar since Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic was beaten by Daniil Medvedev in New York but he will have used the experience to grow stronger and is now halfway there once more – having won 21 Grand Slam matches in a row since Wimbledon last season. Djokovic has made the idea of ​​continuing until the end of the year seem not only possible but also inevitable, and this is perhaps his greatest achievement.

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