Published on : 30/08/2021 – 19:06
If he wins the US Open which begins on Monday, world number 1 Novak Djokovic will bring the record for major titles to 21, with the added bonus of a calendar Grand Slam, unprecedented since 1969. Enough to allow him to definitively overtake Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the race for the title of “best of all time” or GOAT in English.
Become the GOAT, (Greatest Of All Time, best player of all time). This is the stated objective of Novak Djokovic in the US Open which begins Monday, August 30. By winning the last Grand Slam tournament of the season, the Serbian would bring the record for major titles to 21 with the added bonus of the Grand Slam over one season.
More than seven consecutive victories over the New York cement and the world No. 1, already in the Hall of Fame of his sport, will finally be able to show his superiority over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he who had already said “consider himself the best” after his sixth coronation at Wimbledon in July. Especially since the 40-year-old Swiss and the 35-year-old Spaniard, who are still challenging this status with each twenty Grand Slams on the prize list, will be absent. The first because of a recalcitrant knee which forced him to yet another operation, leaving doubt about the rest of his career, the second because of a foot injury.
But these champions, with whom he has fought a fierce battle for the history books for almost fifteen years, are they still only his main rivals? Except on Parisian clay where Nadal, 13 times crowned, ended up falling from his throne in the spring, after an epic semi-final against “Nole”, the gap seems to be widening.
Young people with long teeth
The 34-year-old Serb is now faced with a succession that has ten fewer, called to reign on the courts in the more or less short term.
This competition is first embodied by Alexander Zverev: the fit man of the summer won Olympic gold in Tokyo, after having blocked his way in the semi-finals, and has just won the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
“I’m extremely hungry. I’m not satisfied,” warned the German, 4th in the world, who could stand in his way in the semi-finals. He touched his first Major in New York last year, but Dominic Thiem knocked him down in the final. The Austrian will not defend his title, injured right wrist.
Russian Daniil Medvedev (n ° 2), powerless against Djokovic in the Australian Open final in February, Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas (n ° 3) disgusted on the last step of Roland-Garros in June, Russian Andrey Rublev (n ° 7), even the Italian Matteo Berretini (n ° 8), vain resistant of Wimbledon, also dream of depriving him of a historic exploit, whereas no one since Rod Laver in 1969 has managed to succeed the Grand Slam the same year.
The Australian, undisputed king of tennis before the open era, first achieved this performance in 1962, twenty-four years after the American Don Budge.
“What Novak has accomplished this year is something extraordinary. I really believe he can do it. He’s done 75% of the way. He’s going to play hard, probably his best surface. He’s the big favorite.” , said Nadal in early August.
Same story with Medvedev, 2019 US Open finalist and recent winner of the Toronto Masters 1000: “Novak will be THE contender for victory. He has already won 20 Majors. He has experience. It is so a man under pressure, but I think he likes it “.
This propensity to sublimate oneself, to reverse badly embarked situations, is indeed written in its DNA, but the genome also has its flaws and Djokovic is also able to switch to the dark side. Like last year, disqualified in the round of 16 after having hit, in the grip of anger and frustration, a ball which struck a linesman in the throat.
A boulevard had yet taken shape in his quest for a 4th title in New York, already in the absence of Federer and Nadal. But the pressure of ultra-favorite was then too strong to assume.
“It’s still huge this time. But I’m used to it. It’s not the first time. And the pressure, well it’s a privilege. We work every day of our lives to get there, to win a Grand Slam and make history, “he told the media on Friday.
After his stroke last year, Djokovic had promised to “learn a lesson to progress as a player and as a human being”. Twelve months later, he has a unique opportunity to rise alone in the world, while trying to have the same place as Federer and Nadal in the hearts of the fans.