Wimbledon 2021: Novak Djokovic on course to become the greatest of all time

The Serb can match Federer and Nadal for grand slam trophies at this year's championship - and he has age on his side to set a record that may never be beaten

THE BIG THREE

NOVAK DJOKOVIC
19 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 5 (2011, 14, 15, 18, 19)
French Open: 2 (2016, 21)
US Open: 3 (2011, 15, 18)
Australian Open: 9 (2008, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21)
Prize money: $150m

ROGER FEDERER
20 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 8 (2003, 04, 05, 06, 07, 09, 12, 17)
French Open: 1 (2009)
US Open: 5 (2004, 05, 06, 07, 08)
Australian Open: 6 (2004, 06, 07, 10, 17, 18)
Prize money: $130m

RAFAEL NADAL
20 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 2 (2008, 10)
French Open: 13 (2005, 06, 07, 08, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20)
US Open: 4 (2010, 13, 17, 19)
Australian Open: 1 (2009)
Prize money: $125m

They are the dominant three musketeers of the modern game who between them have won a remarkable 59 grand slam titles.

Over the past 15 years there has been an epic rivalry of cut and thrust, one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are giants of tennis who have demonstrated that even in the rarified atmosphere of professional sport, age can be but a number, and that the passage of time can, it seems, be defied. But for how much longer?

Ahead of the start of the 134th Championships at Wimbledon on Monday, Federer, 39 and Nadal 35, have each won 20 majors, Djokovic, a comparative stripling at 34, is on 19 having won the French Open two weeks ago with an astonishing comeback defeat of Stefanos Tsitsipas.


The title was Djokovic's second at Roland Garros and he now stands alone as the only male player of the modern era to have won every Grand Slam tournament twice. He is half way to a Grand Slam in 2021 having also won the Australian Open in February and heads to the fast grass and manicured lawns of SW19 as defending champion, top seed and world No 1.

No man has achieved the feat since Rod Laver in 1969. Covid 19 put paid to last year’s tournament but in 2019 Djokovic beat Federer in the longest ever Wimbledon final, surviving two match points against him in the process.

That said, Wimbledon and its fans has never quite seem able to taken Djokovic to their hearts in the manner they have Federer and Nadal. Maybe it is because he has that detached air and a demeanour that borders on the inscrutable.

They drool over the effortless grace and elegance of the gentlemanly Swiss, and admire the true grit of the fiery characterful Spaniard, yet the Serb's clinical excellence leaves them slightly cold. Which is unfair given his record of five titles equals that of Bjorn Borg and is second only to Federer. Not that Djokovic seems to care. His single minded determination and his mental strength is such that he has said: “When the crowd is chanting 'Roger', I hear Novak. It sounds silly but it is like that.”

And it would appear that the indomitable Djokovic will ultimately have the last laugh out of the trio and go on to become the player regarded as the greatest of all time.

Many factors come into play when debating the virtues and achievements of each competitor and to a degree an opinion on who is the greatest of all time and their place in the tennis pantheon is subjective. Indeed it may need to be determined finally when they have all retired which in Federer’s case might not be far away.

But if the number of grand slam titles is the ultimate benchmark, then nothing would appear to stand in the way of Djokovic fulfilling a destiny that drives him to create a legacy that is unlikely ever to be surpassed. “Breaking records is a goal that is what motivates me to compete. I have to fight for history,” he said.

“Why should I be frightened?” Djokovic continued. "If you go out on the court thinking positively and thinking I can win against anybody’ I think that’s a right thinking. If you go with the white flag on the court, what are you doing there?”

Novak Djokovic (SRB) on The Hill jumping over his physiotherapist Ulises Badio after a practice session at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Picture date: Friday June 25, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: AELTC/Adam Warner/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

Djokovic beat Nadal in the semi-final in Paris, a tournament the Spaniard has won 13 times. Defeating Nadal on his favourite surface reinforced the widely held view that Djokovic is at present comfortably the best in the world. He described the effort as akin to scaling Everest. It certainly took so much out of Nadal that with only two weeks between the two tournaments and after a demanding clay court season, the Spaniard withdrew from Wimbledon. “I am not 25 anymore,” he said.

Federer in contrast has been saving himself for his favourite tournament, which he has won on eight occasions. He pulled out of the French Open following a third-round win in order to give himself the best chance to withstand the acute physical rigours and grind Wimbledon can place on his ageing body.
Despite his supreme qualities time, the enemy of all leading sportsmen, is catching up with the Swiss genius who had an injury interrupted 2020 and been troubled by knee problems this year.
He has been bestrode Wimbledon for almost two decades, winning there for the first time in 2003. But only a year off 40 it's becoming increasingly difficult for Federer, the seventh seed, to deal with the physical demands of a tough two-week tournament.

To win he will have to do it the hard way too as the draw sees him likely to pitch him his arch rival in the quarter finals. Djokovic has a positive head-to-head record against both Roger Federer (27-23) and won each of the three finals they have contested.

However although he is the elder statesman, it would be foolhardy to write him off. Of the younger contenders Danill Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev will have their supporters, but the title is surely Djokovic’s for the taking, enabling him to take one further step on the path to what he hopes will be tennis immortality.

And then perhaps Wimbledon will start to take him to their hearts, appreciate his qualities and even maybe chant "Novak".

THE BIG THREE

NOVAK DJOKOVIC
19 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 5 (2011, 14, 15, 18, 19)
French Open: 2 (2016, 21)
US Open: 3 (2011, 15, 18)
Australian Open: 9 (2008, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21)
Prize money: $150m

ROGER FEDERER
20 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 8 (2003, 04, 05, 06, 07, 09, 12, 17)
French Open: 1 (2009)
US Open: 5 (2004, 05, 06, 07, 08)
Australian Open: 6 (2004, 06, 07, 10, 17, 18)
Prize money: $130m

RAFAEL NADAL
20 grand slam singles titles
Wimbledon: 2 (2008, 10)
French Open: 13 (2005, 06, 07, 08, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20)
US Open: 4 (2010, 13, 17, 19)
Australian Open: 1 (2009)
Prize money: $125m

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