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Australian Open 2023 – Advantage, Novak Djokovic in the race to become GOAT

Australian Open 2023 – Advantage, Novak Djokovic in the race to become GOAT


MELBOURNE, Australia – It is inevitable that Novak Djokovic will play tennis at the Rod Laver Arena.

It is the feeling that no matter what year we are in, who is on the other side of the net and how skewed the public support is in favor of his opponent, it is still Djokovic who will prevail.

Djokovic, 35, did just that on Sunday evening for the 28th consecutive time at Melbourne Park. The Serb dispatched third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) to earn a record 10th Australian Open title, one that puts him tied with rival Rafael Nadal for most major titles (22) in men’s tennis — the pair have trailed longtime leader Roger Federer with 20.

As Djokovic hugged every member of his player box and before he could raise the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, a familiar discussion began to circulate. Who is the GOAT of tennis? And while it’s almost impossible to answer this definitively until the era of the Big Three has officially come to an end, there’s no doubt that Djokovic’s two weeks Down Under has once again upended him.

Federer has now hung up his racket and Nadal faces another injury layoff. Meanwhile, here’s Djokovic winning Slams. Earlier in the tournament, he said, “I know I’m in the last quarter of my career,” and while that’s true, his tennis suggests he’s far from done. In fact, what he showed in Melbourne over the past two weeks as he struggled with a nagging hamstring injury is not that far from Djokovic, the pinnacle of his strength.

For the third time in his career, Djokovic dropped just one set in his journey to an Australian Open title. He humiliated local hero Alex de Minaur in the fourth round, repeated the dose against fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals and crossed American Tommy Paul in a lopsided semifinal.

Tsitsipas, the world No. 4, was going to be his biggest challenge, but he passed that test with ease and repeated the result from the 2021 French Open final. He kept unforced fouls low as he hit the ball from behind the baseline pounding and chasing anything Tsitsipas sent over the net. As always, Djokovic found an extra gear when the situation called for it. Two tiebreaks? No problem.

“I did everything I could. I couldn’t have gotten anything more. Novak is a player who pushes you to the limit,” said a deflated Tsitsipas after the final. “I think he is the best ever to hold a tennis racket. The numbers speak for themselves. He has earned it with such dedication and professionalism.”

An exceptional and unparalleled return game is what has made Djokovic such a force on the ATP tour for 15 years. At this tournament, he hit more return winners than any other player and was the only man to win more than 40% of first serve points and 60% of second serve points on his return.

But it was perhaps his ministry that stood out the most. Djokovic led the field in service games won (94%), was in the top 10 for first save points won and saved 79% of break points. He was only broken once out of 17 matches in the final.

“It was truly one of the best tennis I’ve ever played on this court,” Djokovic declared after the match, referring to his stunning two weeks at Melbourne Park. “I’d put it up there. Maybe in the top two, three of all time performances at Slams.”

So Djokovic now sits at 22. But no matter if your allegiances lie with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, there’s no denying that the number of Serbian Slam wins over the last 30 months could have been significantly higher were it not for the pandemic and some polarizing personal decisions.

He missed the chance to defend his 2020 Wimbledon title when the event was canceled due to COVID-19. Of course, the title was not a certainty, but he has not lost a match at Wimbledon since 2017.

Two months later, Djokovic was sensationally ejected from the US Open after hitting a linesman with a ball during his fourth-round match. Again, there’s no guarantee he would have lifted the silverware, but with several of his main rivals sitting out the event for various reasons – most notably Nadal and Federer – few were brave enough to pick against him.

And in 2022, he was unable to compete in the Australian Open or US Open because his COVID-19 vaccination stance would not allow him to legally enter either country.

Djokovic was or would have been the odds-on favorite in all four of those majors. Even if he played it conservatively, he probably would have added at least two more to his tally. If one of them had been last year’s Australian Open, after his most recent win he could very easily sit at 25 and lead Nadal’s 21. An insurmountable hole.

But enough of the hypotheses. The reality is Djokovic and Nadal are locked at 22-22. Even still, it’s an advantage, Djokovic.

Djokovic has now won five of the last seven majors he’s competed in — his two failures came in the 2021 US Open final and the 2022 French Open quarterfinals — and by any logical measure, he’s the undisputed best player in the world . Heck, we’re less than 18 months away from him being one game short of the coveted calendar Slam.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Nadal will miss up to two months of tennis after sustaining a grade 2 iliopsoas injury in his straight-set second-round loss to American Mackenzie McDonald. However, even prior to the injury, the Spaniard was in the midst of arguably the biggest drop in form of his professional career. Some prominent figures in the sport doubt he will ever return to anything close to his best.

“[Nadal’s loss to McDonald] was already the first step towards retirement,” said tennis great Boris Becker at Eurosport Germany’s Matchball Becker show. I think his days are numbered.”

In contrast, Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanievi believes his man can continue to play at elite level for the foreseeable future.

“The way he takes care of his body and approaches everything… for two to three years at least,” Ivanievi said after the final. “The man is incredible. I don’t know how to describe it in words.”

Djokovic also says he is not yet looking at the finish.

“I am motivated to win as many Slams as possible,” he said. “At this stage of my career, these trophies are the biggest motivating factor why I’m still competing. I really don’t want to stop here. I don’t intend to stop here.

“I know that if I feel good physically, mentally present, I have a chance to win any Slam against anyone. Of course 35 is not 25, even though I’d like to believe it is, but I still have the feeling that there is time.” for me. Let’s see how far I go.’

While Djokovic is the favorite to finish his career with the most men’s Grand Slam titles, it shouldn’t be the only metric used when considering tennis’ GOAT.

Djokovic also holds the men’s records for most weeks as the world No. 1 player (373) and most Masters 1000 titles (38), and has collected more prize money than anyone else in the sport. He has won the most ATP Player of the Year awards (seven) and is tied with Federer for most ATP Finals wins (six). Think of just about any men’s tennis record, and Djokovic’s name is more often than not at the top of the list.

Another factor working in Djokovic’s favor is his win record against both of his major rivals. He leads Nadal head-to-head 30-29 and Federer 27-23.

The GOAT debate of tennis will go on for years to come. Decades, probably. Some will say Federer, some will say Nadal. Others will argue with Serena Williams or Margaret Court. But if no one ever hits a tennis ball again, it would be hard not to have Djokovic at the top of the pile.




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