AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023 – For Novak Djokovic, multiple and massive challenges

Novak Djokovic says he plays tennis for two things: to learn more about himself and to make history. The big one. He alone knows what he will have retained from this long and prolific journey as far as the first datum of the equation is concerned. On the second, no doubt, however, the contract is fully fulfilled. He is and will remain one of the greatest champions in the history of his sport, if not the greatest, and this quest is far from over.

Sunday, during the final of the Australian Open, he will have a new opportunity to advance in the gotha. The stakes won’t be quite as high as before his last duel against Daniil Medvedev at the US Open in 2021, when the Serb played simultaneously to become the first man to achieve a Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 while by seizing, alone, the record of titles in major tournaments.

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Nevertheless, on Sunday, the balance of the stakes will again be very busy. A possible 22nd Major to join Rafael Nadal and put himself in a position to become in the short or medium term the single most important record holder in his eyes, while adding a 10th Australian crown to his CV and, icing on the cake, become world number one again. “The Grand Slam tournaments and the place of world number one are the two peaks of professional tennis and have always been goals for me, he conceded on Friday. So yes, I want to continue to write the history of my sport”. This is a great opportunity in front of him.

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The 22nd Grand Slam title

He lives for it. This year perhaps even more than the previous ones. Because there was the psychodrama of January 2022 in Australia. Because deep down, he must have the feeling of having been dispossessed of what belonged to him. In his absence, Rafael Nadal had won, and how, the Australian Open. His 21st Grand Slam title. Then, at Roland-Garros, the Spaniard even made the break again, beating Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, the Serb was limited to 20 titles. He had closed the gap at Wimbledon and so here he is again with the possibility of equaling the record for Grand Slam victories.

It wouldn’t be a first. A year earlier, it was already a coronation in London which had allowed him to become co-recordman for the first time in his career. The three members of the Big 3 were then on the same line: 20-20-20. Roger Federer being forever stuck at this level, the race for the Grand Slam record now boils down to a duel between “Rafa” and “Nole”.

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For several years now, I believe that his whole career revolves around this recordsays Tim Henman, the English consultant for Eurosport. This 22nd title is what is most important to him and we have the feeling that he is on a mission to achieve it from this Australian OpenThe timing would be all the more ideal as Roland-Garros looms. However, at this stage of Rafael Nadal’s career, it is perhaps the only Grand Slam where his chances of winning are high.

This time, given Federer’s retirement and Nadal’s multiple and lasting physical difficulties, Novak Djokovic seems irresistibly launched towards first place in this crazy race. Provided you don’t miss Sunday on the Rod Laver Arena. He who has spent his life running behind his two legendary elders has never been in such an ideal configuration to go for this ultimate record. He is the youngest, the best physically preserved and of unequaled determination. “You can’t face it because the neighbor has a bigger house than yours“, Nadal has often said as a metaphor about the comparison between the three tenors. Djoko, he wants the biggest, most beautiful, most everything house.

The 10th Australian Open

He won’t have one without the other, of course. It will be 22 and 10 or nothing at all. If the record of major titles will engulf the attention on Sunday in the event of victory of the Serbian champion, this 10th crown at the antipodes would nevertheless remain a monumental accomplishment in itself. Novak Djokovic has won everywhere and often (remember that he is the only one to have won all the Masters 1000 and at least twice every Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, not to mention his record of victories at the Masters), but Melbourne is her baby, her garden.

Everything in his story brings him back here. He won his very first major title there, in 2008, which at the age of 20 marked the beginning of a great love story, despite the temporary quarrel of last year in which the sporting dimension was not involved. Reaching the number 10 in Australia would be great, it would be his decima. A feat reinforced by the fact that he would have won his ten finals. In reality, he has never been beaten in Melbourne once he reached the quarter-finals.

Nine is already unbelievable, but ten… We could almost compare that to Rafa’s 14 titles at Roland-Garros, because the competition seems to me to be stronger on hard court in modern men’s tennis.analysis by Mats Wilander. Everyone is of course playing hard today, it’s the surface that balances the forces the most. To win the Australian Open, you have to be able to beat a greater number of candidates at Roland-Garros or Wimbledon. To simplify, we could say that on hard, everyone has a chance. It’s not quite the case on grass or clay.”

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The return to power

This is undoubtedly the least important element, which would also be “only” the consequence of a victorious final on Sunday. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that this is an anecdote for “Nole”. Having fallen from first place in the world in February 2022, he has the opportunity to set the mathematical record straight. Djokovic lost his place on the throne not because someone got stronger than him, but for two reasons:

1. His absence from two of the four Grand Slam tournaments last year, not to mention his inability to appear in about half of the Masters 1000, those played on North American territory.

2. The lack of points at Wimbledon. Winner for the seventh time on the Center Court last July, he could not benefit from the usual gain of 2000 points, the organizers having decided, in response to the expulsion of the Russian and Belarusian players decided jointly by the ATP and the WTA.

This double handicap made him fall to 8th place and slowed his return to the top. But everyone kept in mind that he was still the best player in the world. When he was able to line up, he remained the absolute reference. Once physically and psychologically revived, he (re)became the boss. Since his defeat in the Roland-Garros quarter-finals against Rafael Nadal, he has played 37 matches (excluding Laver Cup). He won 36, for a single failure, on the wire, in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters against the young Holger Rune.

Whatever the ATP computers say, the decisions and choices of each other in recent months, including those of Djokovic himself, when it comes to tennis, he remains the strongest, until to the contrary. With already 373 weeks in power under his belt, he no longer has much to gain or prove in this area. But whatever he can conquer or reconquer is worth taking for him, in his legitimate thirst for honors and titles. Because he is Novak Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic

Credit: Getty Images

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