Is it time to acknowledge Djokovic as the greatest?

“When Roger was in his prime in the mid-2000s, he was unstoppable. He had a lot more versatile play – he would destroy you on his serve, destroy you at the net and so on.”

Australian doubles legend and former Australian Open Tournament Director Paul McNamee agrees on the last point.

“My opinion is very consistent, and I’ve said that from the start: These are the top three players that have ever played this game,” McNamee said.

“I call her the Holy Trinity. We won’t know who the GOAT is until they all retire and we can look at their entire careers.”

Is he the best to win the Australian Open?

There is no question that Djokovic is the best man to compete at the Australian Open, a title he has held for several years and cemented again on Sunday night.

He makes no secret that this is his favorite Grand Slam and praises Rod Laver Arena and its place in his career.

Djokovic pushed ahead of Australian tennis legend Roy Emerson and longtime rival Federer to become the most successful player at the Australian Open in 2019 after beating Nadal in that final.

This started a winning streak for the Serb, prevailing in 2020, 2021 and 2023 (he failed to play in 2022 following his deportation).

Djokovic claimed his first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park in 2008, defeating Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a fourth-set tie-break. He defeated Andy Murray in four Open finals and Nadal twice. The first match against Nadal in 2012 remains the longest in the history of the tournament, lasting five hours and 53 minutes. Djokovic also beat Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev in the playoffs.

But Djokovic celebrated this year’s win over Stefanos Tsitsipas as ‘the biggest win of my life given the circumstances’.

He later said he blocked challenges, including comments about a hamstring injury that threatened his chances early on, his father being photographed with supporters carrying banned Russian flags, and discussions about his deportation last year. “It took a tremendous amount of mental energy to really stay present, stay focused, take things day by day and really see how far I can go.”

What makes Djokovic different?

Ahead of Djokovic’s win on Sunday, this masthead went through the stats to show why he would be tough to beat. The same stats show why he will remain hard to beat in the future.

He is the first male player in the Open era to win all Grand Slams twice. No player has been ranked No. 1 longer (although Federer has held the rankings for longer consecutive periods). And since the start of the ATP rankings in 1973, nobody has finished the year at number 1 more often.

While Djokovic could dominate the hard court and sweaty summers in Melbourne, Nadal has an impressive 14 wins to his name at the French Open.

The two played 59 times – and the Serb is ahead with 30 wins.

O’Shannessy believes Djokovic’s razor-thin margin between his best and worst takes him to another level.

“All three of these guys have this incredible top level, but what I think Novak has done better than the other two is that his range at the bottom end isn’t that low,” O’Shannessy said.

“Roger could spray balls, misfires and things would go sideways and Rafa can come off especially when he’s not on clay but Novak’s low-end is higher than any person I think who’s ever played the game.”

What O’Shannessy also admires about Djokovic is his insatiable appetite to get better, even after establishing himself as a ‘legend of the sport’.

“He’s actually not ready to improve – he demands it,” he said.

“I remember in my freshman year with him he said, ‘I know there are areas in my game where I’m not good and I need to improve. I hire you to find the areas where I’m underperforming.’

“He already had 11 slams in 2015 where he went 82-6 [win-loss record]and he’s already a legend of our spot, but he still wanted to improve and was really obsessed.”

Novk Djokovic plays a backhand to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the men's singles final at the Australian Open.

Novk Djokovic plays a backhand to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open. Credit:AP

Djokovic’s professionalism, nutrition, strength and ability to ‘block’ under pressure also set him apart from the other elite.

“When other guys are being pushed around, he blocks, drives the energy into the ground and doesn’t go anywhere. His backhand is an absolute machine and the forehand unleashes hell,” said O’Shannessy.

No popularity contest

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the GOAT debate, but in some circles it’s about more than just numbers, which McNamee says is wrong.

“It has to be objective, not subjective,” says McNamee.

“It’s unfair to have a subjective analysis when talking about the GOAT. People’s tastes and preferences are irrelevant. They all made an amazing impression on and off the pitch. But to be clear, it is absolutely not a popularity contest.”

What does the future hold?

Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic believes the superstar can still play at the highest level for “two, three more years” due to his sophisticated diet and the way he takes care of his body.

“[When] Speaking of young people, they’re here, it’s great for tennis, great for the future of tennis. But you still have these two guys [Djokovic and Nadal] fight,” said Ivanisevic after the final on Sunday evening.

McNamee thinks it’s premature to make a call about who’s the greatest until Djokovic, 35, and Nadal, 36, retire to Federer. However, with the younger two boasting two bigger titles than the Swiss legend, McNamee is already poised to place the 41-year-old in third place.

“It comes down to a two-way race and the number of slams is the most important measure, but not the only one. If Novak completes the most, he becomes the GOAT, but that’s not a foregone conclusion,” McNamee said.

“Rafa is still the favorite to win Roland Garros and Novak cannot compete in the US Open again at this point [due to being unvaccinated] but is obviously favorite at Wimbledon.

“This Grand Slam [at the Australian Open] was absolutely crucial for Novak because if he didn’t win in Melbourne I’m not as sure as others that he would end up winning the most.

“People get caught up in emotion that Novak is playing so well here in the face of difficulties, which is true – it was an incredible performance – and now it’s more likely it will be Novak, but I don’t think it’s fair to Rafa is to name it yet.” Is it time to acknowledge Djokovic as the greatest?

Ryan Sederquist

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