WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Novak Djokovic is never satisfied.
When he won his first Grand Slam title, he wanted a second. When he proved his excellence on hard courts, he wanted to excel on grass and clay, too. When he narrowed the considerable gap between his number of major championships and those won by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Djokovic was determined to catch them.
Just look at him now, all the way up to 20 Slam trophies, the same as the other members of the Big Three, by virtue of winning Wimbledon with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Matteo Berrettini in Sunday’s final.
So the question that’s been on so many people’s minds in recent times was put to Djokovic after his latest triumph: Do you consider yourself the greatest male tennis player of the Open era?
“I consider myself best, and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning Slams and making history. But whether I’m the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people,” the 34-year-old from Serbia began. “I said before that it’s very difficult to compare the eras of tennis. We have different rackets, technology, balls, courts. It’s just completely different conditions that we’re playing in, so it’s very hard to compare tennis, say, from 50 years ago to today.”
And then he offered a humble take on the matter, concluding: “But I am extremely honored to definitely be part of the conversation.”
Yes, of course he’s part of it. And while the best stance is to appreciate all three of the modern-day rivals, as athletes and competitors, and to cherish what all have brought to their sport, and to acknowledge the sheer greatness of all, those who want to make the case that Djokovic stands out from the trio are getting some pretty good evidence lately.
As it is, Djokovic leads the head-to-head series against both of the other guys. He is the only one of them to have won each Slam twice. He is the only one to hold all four major titles simultaneously, something he did over the end of 2015 and start of 2016. And he is the only to win the first three Slams in one season; indeed, no man has done that since Rod Laver went 4 for 4 in 1969.
And now Djokovic will head to New York in August for the U.S. Open on the precipice of something so, so special. The only men with calendar-year Grand Slams to their credit are Laver, twice in the 1960s, and Don Budge, in the 1930s.
“Working with him is a privilege, is (an) honor, is everything, but (it’s) not easy. It’s a lot of pressure,” said Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion who is one of Djokovic’s two coaches. “Final is not good enough. We count only wins.”
Been doing a lot of counting lately.
Consider where things stood a decade ago: Entering the 2011 season, Federer owned 16 majors, Nadal nine and Djokovic one.
Heading into Wimbledon in 2018 — three years plus two weeks ago — Federer was at 20, Nadal 17 and Djokovic at 12.
That, Djokovic says now, is when he really began to take aim at increasing his Slam total and trying to surpass Federer’s record for the most weeks at No. 1 in the rankings (he eclipsed that earlier this year).
All Djokovic has done since is win eight of the past 12 majors.
“I’ve always kind of believed that I could play my best tennis in Grand Slams and give myself a good chance to win any Slam, really, on any surface, because I know what I’m capable of,” he said. “I know I have a very complete game that has proven to be successful on all surfaces in the past.”
So he’s up to nine championships on the hard courts of the Australian Open, six on the grass of Wimbledon, three on the hard courts of the U.S. Open and two on the red clay of the French Open.
More could be on the horizon. Djokovic won’t turn 35 until next May. Federer turns 40 on Aug. 8 and is unsure of his future after a quarterfinal loss at the All England Club and two operations on his right knee last year. Nadal is already 35 and decided to sit out Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics to rest and recover after a semifinal loss to Djokovic at Roland Garros last month.
Who would pick against Djokovic at this point?
“It’s impossible that even you can believe that you can beat him,” Ivanisevic said, “because the guy is unbeatable at the moment.”
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Follow him at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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