International Blog – Michael Dickens
Novak Djokovic gave a virtuoso performance befitting a champion in capturing his seventh Australian Open title and garnering his 15th Grand Slam championship two weeks ago on a memorable summer evening for tennis in Melbourne.
The freshness of Djokovic’s perfection on Rod Laver Arena is etched in everyone’s minds and indicative of his greatness as a professional tennis player and athlete.
“That was one of the best, if not the best I’ve ever played in a Grand Slam final,” Djokovic commented after he lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for a record seventh time Down Under.
“All praise Novak Djokovic, who played something resembling tennis in umami form … “ wrote Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim. “A year ago, his career was teetering; now he’s seeking a calendar Grand Slam.”
Since Djokovic rejuvenated his career following elbow surgery a year ago, his world ranking has risen from an uncharacteristic low of No. 22 in June to a statement-making No. 1 by the end of summer – thanks to winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The Serbian is arguably playing the best tennis of his 31-year-old life. In his last three majors, Djokovic is undefeated with a 21-0 win-loss record.
During this period, Djokovic reunited with his longtime coach, Marián Vajda, worked diligently on improving his physical conditioning, paid close attention to his diet and fitness, and regained his positive mental attitude and fortitude, which had been sorely missing. By the end of last season, everything, it seemed, had come together for Nole.
Now, as former British tennis player turned commentator Mark Petchey tweeted following the conclusion of this year’s Melbourne fortnight, “No debating who’s the best male player on the planet right now.”
Naturally, for better or worse, each time Djokovic or the others who comprise the dominant “Big Three” of tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, whom Djokovic beat soundly to win this year’s Australian Open title, win a Grand Slam or rise to World No. 1, it resurrects the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate. There are pros and cons that vocal fans and critics raise in praise and defense of each of the Big Three.
I agree with Petchey: It’s an unwinnable debate. “It detracts from enjoying the contribution each has made to the sport of tennis,” he suggests.
Indeed, when you consider that Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, Nadal 17 and Djokovic 15, it’s truly remarkable – even unfathomable – how dominating they’ve been. Each has excelled on a different surface: Federer on grass, Nadal on clay, and Djokovic on hardcourt. Each has risen to No. 1 in the world rankings.
The beauty of it all is that each pushes the others to greatness – and I think deep down, each has tremendous respect for the other two. Add to the mix, we can thank Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Juan Martín del Potro, to name a few, for bringing out the best in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
It’s entirely possible that soon, we will have witnessed each of the “Big Three” with 20 or more Grand Slam crowns to their credit. There’s nobody close behind them right now. Yet, the next generation of stars, whose names are becoming more and more familiar, like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur and Denis Shapovalov, could some day become the next “Big Three” of tennis. Let’s hope so.
For now, though, isn’t it enough to appreciate the accomplishments of each of the current “Big Three” – Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – that we have been able to watch all three of these once-in-a-generation champions play in the same era?