As has been more than well publicised over the past week, Novak Djokovic, in shock scenes, was unseated as the newest champion at Wimbledon. While many pundits began to mull over the ‘implications’ of such a loss- one thing is still certain: Novak Djokovic has still won the most Grand Slam matches in 2023. Which begs the question – had our great champion of the sport, Rafael Nadal, managed to be healthy for this year’s Roland Garros, would we be hypothesising about the chances of a calendar year Grand Slam?
Commentary in the tennis sphere as of late has been abuzz with talk of a ‘changing of the guard’. Phrases such as ‘the future is now’ and other more hackneyed catchphrases have been thrown around ad nauseum and without context since the beginning of this week. The reality of 2023 is truly that the sport has missed, for the very first time in a long time, one of the truly timeless cornerstones of the men’s top 10.
Rafael Nadal, last year’s world number 1 and last year’s 2-time grand slam champion, has unfortunately been hampered by injury over the past 6 months. Earlier this year in Australia, what seemed like a good return to the sport was suddenly spoilt by a shock injury during the 2nd round of this year’s Australian Open. The 4-time finalist and 2-time champion of Melbourne sent the tennis world into overdrive with a further announcement that his 2023 season was over.
Would Djokovic have had a chance at a calendar Slam if Nadal were healthy?
A 14-time champion at the French Open, as well as a 22-time major champion ( yes, 22) overall, the future of men’s tennis was suddenly put in a position it hasn’t experienced since perhaps the prime years of Roger Federer. Suddenly, an experience void had overcome the tennis world, and there is still every chance that 3 out of the 4 grand slams could be won by 1 man – with the remaining slam being taken by a future great of the sport.
That is OKAY.
However, if you were to tune into tennis circles, there seems to be an obsession with finding negatives to an albeit highly positive season so far from Novak Djokovic. Djokovic, even in his prime, was never immune to shock slam final losses. In Nadal’s collection of grand slam finals, only Wawrinka in Australia stands out as an anomaly. Many fail to realise that even other players in the locker room have indicated that Nadal was nowhere near healthy during that 2014 Australian Open final – yet he continued to play through a back injury. An injury which would render most to withdraw completely from the match.
However, Novak Djokovic, despite being the greatest male tennis player of all time, has had his fair share of unusual losses in majors. 2 losses to Wawrinka ( French Open 2015, US Open 2016), 2 losses to Andy Murray ( US Open 2012, Wimbledon 2013), and that shock loss to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 US Open final. When it comes to Grand Slam finals, an argument can be made that the hardest task in tennis for anyone outside the Big 3 is to beat Nadal when he reaches the very last stage of a grand slam. Even Federer has just the sole loss to Del Potro as a mark against an otherwise perfect record in slam finals against rivals with fewer major wins.
Novak Djokovic isn’t ‘washed’. This isn’t the ‘end of an era’. This isn’t a ‘passing of the baton’ nor a ‘passing of the torch moment’. Until the day that Alcaraz has Djokovic’s number at Grand Slams – and nobody besides Alcaraz seems to be able to win the majority of Grand Slams each year, can we even intimate such a possibility? Enough with the hyperbole.
All in all, do you think this year is a case of a calendar slam gone begging or is Nadal’s absence the real elephant in the living room?