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Benefit, Novak Djokovic within the race to be tennis’ GOAT

Jan 29, 2023Jake MichaelsESPN Senior Writer CloseJake Michaels is a Melbourne-based sports writer who covers everything from Aussie Rules to Formula One, basketball to boxing. He has been with ESPN for 10 years and works as a Senior Writer, covering sport in Australia and around the world.MELBOURNE, Australia — There’s an inevitability about Novak Djokovic

Benefit, Novak Djokovic within the race to be tennis’ GOAT

Jan 29, 2023

  • Jake MichaelsESPN Senior Author


      Jake Michaels is a Melbourne-based sports activities author who covers all the things from Aussie Guidelines to Components One, basketball to boxing. He has been with ESPN for 10 years and works as a Senior Author, overlaying sport in Australia and world wide.

MELBOURNE, Australia — There’s an inevitability about Novak Djokovic enjoying tennis at Rod Laver Area.

It is the sensation that no matter what 12 months we’re in, who stands on the opposite aspect of the online and simply how lopsided the group assist is perhaps in favor of his opponent, it is nonetheless Djokovic who will prevail.

Djokovic, 35, did simply that on Sunday night for the twenty eighth consecutive time at Melbourne Park. The Serbian dispatched third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) to clinch a report tenth Australian Open title, one that pulls him equal with rival Rafael Nadal for essentially the most main titles (22) in males’s tennis — the pair having left longtime chief Roger Federer of their wake with 20.

As Djokovic hugged every member of his gamers’ field, and earlier than he was capable of increase the Norman Brookes Problem Cup, a well-known dialogue started to flow into. Who’s tennis’ GOAT? And whereas it is close to not possible to definitively reply this till the Massive Three period has formally drawn to an in depth, there isn’t any doubt Djokovic’s fortnight Down Below has seen him put his nostril in entrance, as soon as once more.

Federer has now hung up his racket and Nadal faces one more harm layoff. In the meantime, here is Djokovic, successful Slams. Earlier within the match, he mentioned, “I do know I am within the final quarter of my profession,” and whereas which may be correct, his tennis would recommend he is not near being completed. Actually, what he showcased over the previous fortnight in Melbourne, all whereas battling a nagging hamstring pressure, will not be all that far-off from peak-of-his-power Djokovic.

For the third time in his profession, Djokovic dropped only one set alongside his journey to an Australian Open title. He humiliated native hero Alex de Minaur within the fourth spherical, repeated the dose in opposition to fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev within the quarterfinals and cruised by American Tommy Paul in a lopsided semifinal.

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Tsitsipas, the world No. 4, was to be his best problem, however he handed that take a look at with ease, repeating the results of the 2021 French Open remaining. He stored the unforced errors low all whereas battering the ball from behind the baseline and hustling after something Tsitsipas despatched over the online. As at all times, Djokovic discovered an additional gear when the state of affairs required it. Two tiebreaks? No drawback.

“I did all the things potential. There’s nothing I might have extracted extra. Novak is a participant who pushes you to your limits,” mentioned a deflated Tsitsipas after the ultimate. “I believe he is the best who has ever held a tennis racket. The numbers converse for themselves. He has earned it with a lot dedication he is put in and professionalism.”

An distinctive and unparalleled return recreation is what has made Djokovic such a pressure on the ATP tour for 15 years. At this match, he struck extra return winners than every other participant and was the one man to win over 40% of first-serve factors and 60% of second-serve factors when returning.

But it surely might need been his serving that caught the attention most. Djokovic led the sphere in service video games gained (94%), ranked within the prime 10 for first serve factors gained and saved 79% of break factors. He was damaged simply as soon as from 17 video games within the remaining.

“It was actually a number of the greatest tennis I’ve ever performed on this courtroom,” Djokovic declared after the match, referring to his gorgeous fortnight at Melbourne Park. “I might rank it proper up there. Possibly prime two, three of all time of performances on Slams.”

So Djokovic now sits at 22. However regardless of whether or not your allegiances lie with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, there isn’t any denying the Serbian’s Slam wins determine might have grown considerably greater over the previous 30 months, if not for the pandemic and a few polarizing private selections.

He missed the chance to defend his Wimbledon title in 2020 when the occasion was canceled on account of COVID-19. Positive, the title was no certainty, however he hasn’t misplaced a match at Wimbledon since 2017.

Two months later, Djokovic was sensationally defaulted from the US Open after placing a linesperson with a ball throughout his fourth-round match. Once more, there isn’t any assure he would have lifted the silverware, however with plenty of his fundamental rivals sitting out the occasion for varied causes — notably Nadal and Federer — few have been courageous sufficient to choose in opposition to him.

And in 2022, he was unable to compete within the Australian Open or US Open as a result of his COVID-19 vaccination stance would not permit him to legally enter both nation.

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Djokovic was or would have been the odds-on favourite in all 4 of these majors. Even enjoying it conservatively, he would have probably added a minimum of two extra to his whole. Had one in all them been final 12 months’s Australian Open, he might very simply be sitting on 24 after his most up-to-date triumph, main Nadal’s 21. An insurmountable hole.

However sufficient of the hypotheticals. The fact is Djokovic and Nadal are locked at 22-22. Even nonetheless, it is benefit, Djokovic.

Djokovic has now gained 5 of the previous seven majors he has contested — his two failures coming within the 2021 US Open remaining and the 2022 French Open quarterfinals — and by any logical metric he is the undisputed greatest participant on this planet. Heck, we’re not even 18 months faraway from him falling one match in need of the coveted calendar Slam.

In the meantime, Nadal, 36, is about to overlook as much as two months of tennis after struggling a Grade 2 iliopsoas harm throughout his straight-sets loss within the second spherical to American Mackenzie McDonald. However even previous to the harm, the Spaniard was within the midst of maybe the best type droop of his skilled profession. Some outstanding figures within the sport are doubting he’ll ever return to something near his greatest.

“[Nadal’s loss to McDonald] was already step one in direction of his retirement,” tennis nice Boris Becker mentioned on Eurosport Germany’s Matchball Becker present. “An harm like that’s exhausting, and at this age, it takes even longer to get again into form. I believe his days are numbered.”

Against this, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanišević believes his man can proceed enjoying at an elite degree for the foreseeable future.

“The best way he is caring for his physique and approaching all the things … two to 3 years, for positive,” declared Ivanišević after the ultimate. “The man is unbelievable. I do not know find out how to describe it in phrases.”

Djokovic, too, says he is not eyeing the end line simply but.

“I’m motivated to win as many Slams as potential,” he mentioned. “At this stage of my profession, these trophies are the largest motivational issue of why I nonetheless compete. I actually do not wish to cease right here. I haven’t got intention to cease right here.

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“I do know that after I’m feeling good bodily, mentally current, I’ve an opportunity to win any Slam in opposition to anyone. After all, 35 will not be 25, though I wish to consider it’s, however I nonetheless really feel there’s time forward of me. Let’s examine how far I’m going.”

Whereas Djokovic is the favourite to finish his profession with essentially the most males’s Grand Slam titles, it should not be the one measure used when contemplating tennis’ GOAT.

Djokovic additionally owns the boys’s information for essentially the most weeks because the No. 1 participant on this planet (373) and essentially the most Masters 1000 titles (38), and he has amassed extra prize cash than anybody else within the sport. He has amassed essentially the most ATP Participant of the 12 months awards (seven) and is tied with Federer for essentially the most ATP Finals wins (six). Consider nearly any males’s tennis report, and Djokovic’s identify most of the time is on the prime of the listing.

One other issue working in Djokovic’s favor is his successful report in opposition to each of his nice rivals. He leads the Nadal head-to-head 30-29 and Federer 27-23.

Tennis’ GOAT debate shall be argued for years to come back. Many years, in all probability. Some will say Federer, some will say Nadal. Others will argue Serena Williams or Margaret Court docket. But when no one ever strikes a tennis ball once more, you would be hard-pressed to not have Djokovic on the prime of the pile.

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