Whenever Rafa Nadal seeks to close in the overall Grand Slams race led by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic comes in the way. Before Wimbledon 2018, the last 6 Grand Slams had been won/shared equally by Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Roger’s lead at a humungous 17 was 3, with Rafa having the same number as Sampras with 14. Roger kept on increasing the lead to 4 and Rafa kept on whittling it down to 3 once again.
Then came Wimbledon 2018. Roger was looking good and was widely expected to at least reach the final to mount a serious challenge for his 21st. He however after having match point lost to the giant South African Anderson in the quarter finals. Rafa meanwhile defeated what was expected to be his toughest opponent DelPotro in a rivetting quarter final. Anderson had reached the final after a weary 396 minute semi final, and therefore the semi-final between Djokovic and Rafa was expected to be the final before the final. Would Rafa join Becker and Mcenroe with 3 Wimbledons each or would Djokovic pull ahead with 4, with only Federer (8), Sampras (7) and Borg (5) in the open era ahead of him.
It was Djokovic who won an absorbing match, which ended at 10-8 win in the final set. This win, Djokovic’s 13th is one of his most important Grand Slams wins.
Why? The reasons are many. The Serb had a magic 2011 season and then a period of triumph as well from 2013-2016. A period of slump and despair followed. It was not just that Djokovic was losing, he was looking as if he was simply going through the motions of turning up at events, losing and then turning up at another. Injury did not help either. Elbow injury was painful, surgery was required and he was not certain as to when he would go for it. He fell out with Agassi on this issue. Comeback was hurried and that further frustrated him.
Due to combination of all of this it seemed that Djokovic’s final Grand Slam tally would end at a highly respectable 12. It also seemed that he did not care about winning anymore or was not sure of wanting to win, or even worse, was afraid of winning.
Appropriately it was at Wimbledon that Djokovic, against most odds won his 13th Grand Slam title to stop the Rafa-Federer duopoly. After all it had been his childhood dream to be a Wimbledon champion, so much so that at 7 he was always creating improvised Wimbledon trophies from various materials. He won Wimbledon in 2011 for the 1st time by defeating the defending Champion Rafa Nadal, for whom it was a 5th Final in a row. He then defeated Roger Federer in back to back Wimbledon finals. While he did lose a Wimbledon final to Andy Murray, his defeating Rafa this year in the semifinals gave him a chance to cross Mcenroe and Becker, which he did in style by winning against Anderson, to have his 4th Wimbledon crown, behind just Federer (8), Sampras (7) and Borg (5) in the Open era.
Boris Becker says that while everyone loves Federer and Rafa, they respect Djokovic and that bothers him and he takes it personally. This Wimbledon too Djokovic had to battle not just the opponent but the crowd as well. A section of the crowd coughing and whistling while he is preparing to serve is not something a 12 time Grand Slam champion expects. This happened in the Edmund match. In the final too, he had to yell at the crowd “Shut the …. up”.
Novak certainly has reasons to feel upset. After all he is the only player to have a winning head-to-head performance against both Federer and Rafa. No 2 players have played more than 50 matches as Rafa and Novak have, and Novak leads 27-25. He describes Rafa as the biggest fighter the game has seen, and no one has more wins against Nadal than himself. Similarly Novak has a 23-22 head-to-head advantage over Federer. He and Rafa have equal wins against Federer who has not lost this many to anyone else.
Novak’s achievements are incredible. He has a win over Rafa Nadal at the French Open. He has wins over Roger Federer at all the 4 Grand Slams. He is the 1st since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all 4 Grand Slams simultaneously which he did when he won the 2016 French Open. As mentioned earlier he is the only player to have better head to head records against both Federer and Rafa. He is a global icon and an inspiration across sports, as can be seen from golfer Rory Mcilroy who is without a major win in 4 years saying he will take inspiration from Wimbledon 2018 triumph.
US Open will be interesting, the top three have one Major each. Winning the US Open will mean a lot to them as they will feel that they were the best of the year. That apart, the 2 man race for GOAT has been reopened, for it is possible that the younger Djokovic will have a good run.
Federer fans claim he is the GOAT, some of Rafa fans accept that and many call Rafa the GOAT. A reasonable and accepted view is that it is incorrect to talk about GOAT now and one can do that after Rafa and Federer hang up their tennis rackets.
Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph has reopened the debate and has put him firmly in the GOAT race too. Maybe its time to say, the GOAT debate can be discussed when Federer, Rafa and Djokovic have finished the careers.
Till then one hopes to see wonderful tennis from the Big 3. Looking forward.
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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