27 October 2020 01:02 AM

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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 17 OCTOBER, 2020

The Old Guard Held Their Own in 2020

Tough to beat


The Greatest of all Time or GOAT has been a subject of much discussion for some years now thanks mainly to the stupendous achievements of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is true that past masters of the game are also listed among the all time greats but the deeds of The Big Three have put into the shade even their notable achievements.

The list of the greats in the Open era will include the names of Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras. Most of these players have been ranked No 1 for any number of weeks and have won Grand Slam titles repeatedly. But save for Laver and Agassi all of them have had one Achilles Heel – they have failed to win all the four Grand Slam events.

For example Borg has eleven Grand Slam titles – six French Open and five Wimbledons but he never won the US Open. Sampras, Becker, Connors, McEnroe, Edberg and Newcombe despite several attempts failed to win even one French Open title while similarly Wilander and Lendl never won Wimbledon. Laver of course uniquely completed he calendar Grand Slam – winning all four titles the same year - twice in 1962 and once more in 1969 in the Open era.

Agassi is the other player to have won all the four Majors but he has only eight Grand Slam titles which does not compare favourably with Sampras (14), Laver and Borg (eleven each) and Roy Emerson (12 all in the pre Open era) and so perhaps falls short of being ranked in the all time greats category.

But the achievements of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have been of the eye rubbing and mind boggling variety. Not only have they won all the four Grand Slam titles at least once they have notched up an astonishing number of such titles. Federer held the record with 20 which has now been equaled by Nadal. Djokovic with 17 is not far behind. And even though the GenNext of players – the quartet of Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas – have been hot on their heels for a couple of years now the Big Three have managed to stay ahead.

The GenNext set has won Masters 1000 titles and have climbed up the ladder in the ATP rankings to be just below them but when it comes to the Grand Slams it is still the prerogative of Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Thiem broke the run of 13 successive Grand Slam titles notched up the Big Three with his victory at the US Open but it should be mentioned that Djokovic’s disqualification in the fourth round when he inadvertently hit a line judge must surely have been a contributing factor besides the fact that neither Nadal nor Federer played in New York.

Nadal was back on his favourite surface at Roland Garros and his triumph at the French Open was really no surprise. When a player wins 13 of his 20 Grand Slam titles at one venue it is no wonder that he is known as King of Clay though he should now be christened Emperor. The 13 title triumphs is a record that will surely stand the test of time when it comes to winning a Grand Slam event for the next best is Federer’s eight victories at Wimbledon.

Djokovic has been playing some unbelievable tennis this year and before his disqualification he had not lost a match. In fact coming into his title clash at Roland Garros that disqualification was his only loss in 38 matches. Despite his drubbing at the hands of Nadal the Serb is still No 1 in the rankings by some distance. Federer’s absence through injury has meant that Thiem has taken over at No 3 relegating the legendary Swiss to No 4. But the fact that the French Open final was contested by Nadal and Djokovic shows that the GenNext set of players are still playing catch up though Tsitsipas displayed his talent in getting to the semifinals.

With the completion of the last Grand Slam (Wimbledon was not held due to the pandemic) 2020 marks yet another year during which the old guard held their own. Nadal won the French Open, Djokovic the Australian Open and it only remains to be seen who will emerge triumphant at the year ending Masters. All of them are in their thirties – Djokovic 33, Nadal 34 and Federer 39 but at the moment they still remain the players to beat.

The Swiss master cannot be written off despite his last Grand Slam title having been notched up as far as back as January 2018. It will take a superhuman effort by the GenNext set to take the prime spots in the rankings in 2021.

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