Djokovic continues to make case as greatest male player

It’s been an eventful year for Novak Djokovic. Starting by leading Serbia to an inaugural ATP Cup triumph, he followed that up with his obligatory Australian Open title – a record-extending eighth.

So began a 26-match winning run that also took included titles in Dubai and the Western & Southern Open either side of the five-month coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 and disqualification of US Open
Between those triumphs in Dubai and New York, Djokovic courted plenty of controversy for the ill-fated Adria Tour. A multistep exhibition series in the Balkans he spearheaded that descended into chaos when numerous players, including himself and his wife, tested positive for COVID-19.

The widespread criticism the No. 1 faced could derail the focus and form of most players. But Djokovic is not most players. No player can compartmentalize better than the Serb, whose proven time and again that off-court distractions rarely affect his ability to deliver on the court.

That certainly seemed the case at the US Open, where he looked on course to win his 18th Grand Slam, before his astonishing disqualification in the fourth round where his perfect season came to an end after 31 matches.

Back on track in Rome
Once again, Djokovic regrouped in Rome and it was in the Italian capital that he made a renewed case as the greatest male player of all time. By winning the Italian Open, Djokovic moved ahead of Rafael Nadal as the most illustrious Masters 1000 player of all time, his 36 edging the Spaniard’s 35.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, trails both rivals substantially with a not insignificant 28.

The debate surrounding the greatest male tennis player of all time is a favored topic among tennis supporters and commentators and typically focuses on the “Big Three” of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.

It is almost a tribal debate where fiercely loyal fans make their case for their favorite player, and while there are arguments to be made for each man, statistics and honors are quickly showing that Djokovic will soon standalone – if he doesn’t already.

If you take one of those free sport quizzes on the greatest French Open players of all time, then of course Nadal – with his 12 titles – is so far ahead that his status is indisputable. Similarly, eight-time champion Federer remains the king of Wimbledon, while Djokovic is the Australian Open’s finest.

In terms of overall Grand Slam titles, the three titans of tennis are within touching distance of each other. Federer retains a marginal lead with 20, closely followed by Nadal’s 19 and Djokovic’s 17. Even the most ardent Federer fan would admit that the Swiss is unlikely to add too many more major trophies to his enormous collection.

Nadal remains a prolific collector of Grand Slam titles, particularly at Roland Garros, but the rate at which Djokovic is winning major tournaments, it almost feels inevitable that he will, in the not too distant future, emerge as the most successful Grand Slam player of all time.

Is Novak current the best male tennis player?
Since 2011, when Djokovic won his second major at the Australian Open, the Serb has won 16 Grand Slams, Nadal has won 10, and Federer has won four. Given the relentless pace the No. 1 is setting, by the end of the 2021 or 2022 seasons he could hold the record.

Then, there is the Masters 1000 achievements. The most prestigious tournaments outside the four Grand Slams, Djokovic is now the greatest three-set male player in history. While he trails Federer’s overall ATP title haul – 103 to 81 – Djokovic’s vastly superior record in the Masters events gives him another strong argument in the GOAT debate.

Despite having countless supporters around the world, Djokovic will never win a popularity contest against Federer or Nadal – two of the most beloved athletes in history. The Serb can be a spiky character and his style of play, although immensely effective, is not particularly pleasing on the eye.

But, while such attributes may not make Djokovic exciting or endearing, his accomplishments on the tennis court currently make him one of the greatest players in history. Soon though, it looks likely that he will push ahead of Federer and Nadal as the finest to ever play the game. His Masters 1000 milestone in Rome is just the latest reminder.