With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer spending the better part of the last 17 years battling for the crown of the best player in the world, Novak Djokovic has found himself in the conversation after his latest victory.
Despite being five years younger than the other two, Djokovic has been right there with them for most of the rivalry. Should he keep it up, he may soon find himself on top of both of them.
Novak Djokovic’s tennis career
Novak Djokovic turned pro in 2003. This was the same year that Federer and Nadal both broke into the tennis world as champions. The Monte Carlo, Monaco native has been looking at Nadal and Federer from behind since those days. Despite being just as, if not more dominant than either Federer or Nadal in recent memory, he has perennially been seen by many as the third wheel.
Djokovic took home his first Grand Slam title in 2008 at the Australian Open, a tournament he would go on to win seven more times, including most recently in 2020.
Djokovic’s continued domination at the Australian Open has made him synonymous with the event for over a decade, and while time is working against Federer and Nadal as they look to build on their resumes, Djokovic can steadily take sole ownership of the Grand Slam title from Federer.
Aside from the Australian Open, Djokovic has won Wimbledon five times, the U.S. Open three times, and the French Open one time. With his most recent win, Djokovic is comfortably atop the tennis rankings and shows no sign letting up after winning three Grand Slams since the beginning of 2019.
Can Novak Djokovic surpass Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer?
As Fox Sports Asia points out, with a good 2020 campaign Djokovic could stand atop both Nadal and Federer by the time that 2021 is rung in. Looking at the success of the last year and change, Djokovic has won three of the last five majors. While a sweep of the Grand Slam is a rare feat, Djokovic is in prime position to do so until he’s officially out of his first one.
Nadal and Federer both showed fallibility in Australia, while Djokovic started the 2020 season with a big win. As it stands, Djokovic stands two wins behind Nadal and three behind Federer. A clean sweep of the other three Grand Slams would tie him for the lead by 2021 and presumably give him years to surpass Federer after he eventually retires.
Furthermore, Djokovic’s decisive victory over Federer in the semi-finals at Australia showed that he could be pulling well ahead of an aging Federer. Nadal, on the other hand, won the two Grand Slams that Djokovic lost, although Djokovic won the 2019 Australian Open final over Nadal, so momentum still could be in his favor.
Be it in 2020, 2021, or beyond, Djokovic is in prime position to finish his career as the leading Grand Slam winner in the history of men’s tennis. However, he cannot go about his matches treating this as a foregone conclusion.
Chasing the most major wins
Nothing is a foregone conclusion in tennis. When Serena Williams won her 23rd major in January of 2017, nobody assumed that three years later she would still be zeroed in on that number. Likewise, Federer hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the 2018 Australian Open. Every hero in the history of sports had a time when they seemed indestructible, and every hero had to eventually fall back down to earth.
Whether Djokovic retires as the standalone champion or does not, he has had a part in one of the most dominant eras in the history of men’s tennis. His eternal connection between Nadal and Federer, and theirs with him, will show future generations just how tough it was to win over the first two decades of the 21st-century as three titans battled constantly to reign supreme over one another.