The Greatest? Djokovic stakes claim to be tennis god after record-shattering French Open triumph
Novak Djokovic took a significant step in tennis’ all-time great race on Sunday, as he recovered from two sets down to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 to claim a second French Open crown and 19th grand slam overall. Alex Grant reports.
Victory in Paris saw the controversial Serb become the first man since the great Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the double career slam of winning all four majors at least twice, but it looked far from certain when an inspired looking Tsitsipas took a two set lead.
Djokovic took a toilet break ahead of the third set to recompose himself and, perhaps weighed down by the looming possibility of winning his first slam crown, the aggressive approach that served the Greek so well in the opening two sets of the encounter, was soon replaced by a more reserved, cautious style of play. Sensing his opponent’s trepidation and nerves, Djokovic stepped forward, breaking for a 3-1 lead in the third and from then, there was only every going to be one.
As impressive as the world number one’s comeback victory was, it was perhaps even more impressive coming less than 48 hours after Djokovic became the first man to defeat Rafael Nadal in a French Open semi-final with a mammoth 3-6 6-3 7-6 6-2 win after over four hours of action. The Serb described the performance as one of his best, despite a clearly below par Nadal hitting a feeble 55 unforced errors.
Friday night’s victory was an important one in tennis’ famed ‘greatest of all time’ race, as Djokovic moved within one major of Nadal and Roger Federer’s record haul of 20. Victory over Tsitsipas, one of tennis’ next generation of talent, secured the Serb the career double slam, something that neither Nadal nor Federer have been able to achieve, despite both having previously stood just one win away from the feat or, in Nadal’s case, having been on the cusp on three separate occasions.
The double career slam comes off the back of Djokovic achieving the same feat at Masters 1000 level back in September at the Italian Open. The Serb has also tied with Nadal for the most Masters 1000 titles, with both having won 36 apiece, although with Miami and Shanghai painfully missing from his collection, Nadal has yet to achieve the clean sweep at that level.
In terms of Roger Federer, the great Swiss still leads the way in terms of career singles titles won, with his staggering 103 still significantly superior to Nadal and Djokovic’s 88 and 84 respectively, although the eight-time Wimbledon champ continues to chase Jimmy Connors’ record haul of 109.
The Swiss also maintains the record number of ATP Finals victories, with six triumphs at the prestigious year-end championships; one ahead of Djokovic’s five, whilst Nadal is still to claim a maiden ATP Finals crown.
However, 13 Roland Garros crowns sees the Spaniard continue to lead the way in terms of titles won at single events and with 12, 11 and 10 victories at Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome respectively, he is the only player to have at least 10 titles at four separate tournaments. The King of Clay’s 81 match win streak on the surface between 2005 and 2007 remains the longest single surface win streak in history, whilst his success on the international stage with five Davis Cups and two Olympic gold medals (one singles and one doubles) sets him apart from his two rivals.
Speaking to the media following Sunday’s final victory, Djokovic expressed his desire to win the ‘golden slam’ in 2021, consisting of all four slams and the Olympic gold in the same year:
“I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought would not be possible for me,” said the Serb.
“Everything is possible and I did put myself in a good position to go for the golden slam.”
If Djokovic were to achieve such a feat, he would become the first man in history to achieve it, being second to only Steffi Graf in 1988 to secure the achievement, further etching his name into history as the greatest male player of all.
Although, exactly what Federer and Nadal will make of these comments, and what steps they will take in an attempt to reassert their control in the three’s unwavering battle for tennis immortality, remains to be seen.
What we do know for certain is whilst all three are entering the twilight of their extraordinary careers, not one looks likely to call it a day any time soon. For the time being, however, it is advantage very much Djokovic.