The ‘GOAT debate’ – the title of greatest of all time in tennis – could not have been scripted any better. Along the way, we have witnessed an unbelievable amount of twists and turns to reach the stage we are at now. For those unaware of just how juicy this grand slam race has become- let’s take into account some interesting coincidences:
1. A once in a lifetime global virus likely extended Roger Federer’s reign account the top of the men’s grand slam count. In January 2020, Novak had won his 17th grand slam title.
Two years and eight majors later, Djokovic had accumulated just three majors in two years, despite winning five majors from June 2018- January 2020
2. The irony of Bill Gates – a champion of vaccines – having a budding friendship with Roger Federer
Bill Gates friendship with Roger Federer and the fact that the only thing that was standing in the way of Novak Djokovic’s ascension to the top of the all time major grand slam count was….a vaccine. He was in attendance during this year’s Australian Open, adding on top of a narrative that has taken shape over the last 3 years. The irony is never lost on this one.
3. Disqualification from the 2020 US Open likely delayed Novak’s bid to overtake Federer.
4. A global pandemic limiting the number of weeks at number one Novak could accumulate. Due to the tennis tour remaining frozen from March-July 2020, Novak lost almost four months of time he could have spent holding on the the number one spot, another metric in determining the greatest male tennis player of all time. Adding to this, Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the 2020 US Open. Having won the lead up masters tournament in Cincinnati that year, a golden opportunity slipped to win another major and inch closer to be the first man to overtake Roger Federer in the all-time grand slam count.
5. Resurgence of Roger Federer in 2017-2018:
Federer seemed to be out of answers for Novak by the end of 2016. Injured and out of form, Federer had not added to the 17 majors he earned back in July 2012. At that point, Novak had only five majors to Federer’s 17. However over the next four years, Novak improved that to 12 majors, only five behind Roger Federer. However, 2017 had other plans, and Novak failed to win another major for almost two years, while Federer added an additional three majors in that time to reach 20 majors. After Federer’s 2018 Australian Open win, the “GOAT” debate seemed well and truly closed on Djokovic. How times change.
6. Nadal renaissance in 2017-current
Nadal was completely out of form in 2015-2016, which was strange given he was world number one at some point in early 2014. However after a miracle run in Australia, Nadal turned back the clock like it was 2007, and made the final at the Australian Open. He then won the 2017 French Open, his first major win since the 2014 French Open, full three years prior. Nadal won two majors in 2017, one major in 2018, two majors in 2019, and one major in 2020. This capped off six majors in the space of three years.
7. The hurdles Novak had to overcome to close the gap:
Novak Djokovic won the 2020 Australian Open despite calls for it to be cancelled due to dangerous levels of bushfire smoke and affecting visibility. Thankfully it cleared miraculously. In 2021, due to a delta coronavirus surge in Melbourne, the Australian Open was very nearly cancelled, and was played with no fans for the entire second week. As well, after quarantining in a hotel room for two weeks, Novak developed a 2.5 mm abdominal tear and managed to win the Australian Open despite such an extreme injury concern.
Penultimately, in 2022, despite being banned from playing in the Australian Open due to a vaccine mandate, Novak successfully entered the Australian Open draw despite having to spend a weekend in a refugee facility- but then was deported on order of the Immigration Minister. In 2023 however, Novak Djokovic entered the Australian Open with an injured hamstring and miraculously won the 2023 Australian Open while injured throughout the tournament.
If that isn’t a strong case for craziest major race in history…
Now that Novak Djokovic is back at square one, jointly on top of the all-time men’s major count (this time without Roger Federer), the season is laid out in front of Djokovic like it hasn’t been for a long time. Roland Garros is the next major ahead of us. Realistically, that is Rafael Nadal’s. However, if things don’t go to plan, the calendar slam is well and truly in the mix if Djokovic somehow manages to nab Roland Garros. That would mean come Wimbledon, Djokovic would be eyeing to be alone at no.1 in all-time men’s majors- something which has never happened before. Realistically though, Australian Open 2024 is Novak Djokovic’s biggest opportunity to complete that. What a huge day in tennis that would be.
All in all, what other twists do you think we have in-store before it is all said and done- and where do you think the slam race will eventually finish?