Djokovic Has No Intention Of Passing The Torch
Ever hungry for success he plans to go on playing as long as he is at the top
It may be hard to believe now but Roy Emerson held the record of most Grand Slam singles titles (12) for over 30 years. The great Australian won the last of his majors in 1967 and the number was surpassed by Pete Sampras only in 2000.
Sampras ended his career at the start of the new millennium with 14 Grand Slam singles titles and the peerless American so impressed with his power packed game that he was hailed as the greatest tennis player of all time. It was reckoned that like Emerson’s record, Sampras’ too would stand for many, many years.
And yet in the last 20 years we have seen the trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic put Sampras’ figure in the shade. Federer who surpassed Sampras’ mark in 2009 was the first to reach the daunting figure of 20 titles which had the experts hailing him as the greatest of all time (GOAT).
But then Nadal, his great friend and rival, went past him and currently has 22 Grand Slam titles though he is unlikely to add to that figure. This made the Spaniard the GOAT in the eyes of many but then came Djokovic who went past Nadal and with his latest triumph at the US Open has raised the bar to 24.
Plainly put, that is double Emerson’s number, something that could not have been possible at the start of the new millennium when it was thought the 14 against Sampras’ name would possibly stand forever.
All the same that could well and truly be said about Djokovic’s 24 titles. Physically very fit and mentally very strong the Serb at 36 should be considered as the GOAT especially as he has won all the four Majors at least thrice – the only player to do so in tennis history.
Nadal has performed the feat twice while Federer has won only one French Open title. The trio has carried the sport to another level altogether in terms of skill, courtcraft, fitness and longevity.
The only feat that has eluded them is winning a calendar Grand Slam, a feat last performed by Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic came tantalisingly close to achieving it two years ago when he won the first three Grand Slams but lost in the title clash to Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.
Interestingly enough he got the better of Medvedev in the final on Sunday to clinch title No 24. This year has marked the fourth occasion when Djokovic has won three of the four Slams having done so earlier in 2011, 2015 and of course 2021.
All these are remarkable feats but Djokovic is not one to rest on his laurels. Ever hungry for success he plans to go on playing as long as he is at the top. It’s not that he has not had competition, far from it.
First there was Federer and Nadal and in the last few years there has emerged a whole set of GenNext players who have been prodigiously gifted as they have displayed around the ATP circuit winning several titles, even the Tour finals while some of them have been good enough to win the odd Grand Slam or two.
It speaks volumes of Djokovic’s sublime skill and mental strength that in such a fiercely competitive field he has emerged as the numero uno.
For long under the shadow of Federer and Nadal Djokovic has played sublime tennis over a prolonged phase to overtake them and and then more than hold his own against the younger challengers. If the era of the 'Big Three’ has in many ways been the golden phase in the sport and witness to achievements never recorded before Djokovic can take his share of the glory – which is a pretty large chunk.
At the moment Djokovic has no intention of passing the torch to the next generation. He just wants to play on and on and why not? After all, at 36 he is still the player to beat.
He has just become the oldest man in the Open era to hoist the US Open trophy but for this remarkable athlete age is but a number. With Federer retired and the oft-injured Nadal ready to call it quits after next season the days of the Big Three are long gone but Djokovic reminded fans in New York that he is far from finished.
There was just that little doubt that his reign might be at an end when Carlos Alcaraz 16 years his junior thwarted his bid for a 24th title at Wimbledon and Djokovic in fact hinted that perhaps his time had come, that the next generation was about to overtake him. But after scything his way through the Flushing Meadows draw Djokovic showed there would be no changing of the guard just yet.
And as he basked in the glory of his triumph, he had no words of comfort for those hoping to replace him. “I don’t think whether there is a passing of the torch, or the new gen, next gen, future gen or whatever. I focus on what I need to do and how I get myself in an optimal state so that I can win the biggest trophies in our sport.
“That’s what I care about. I am going to keep going. I feel good in my own body. I don’t want to leave this sport if I am still at the top.’’
Little wonder that Medvedev, nine years Djokovic’s junior, had an edge to his banter at the presentation ceremony. “First of all I want to ask Novak, what are you still doing here? I mean come on when are you planning to slow down a little bit.’’
At the moment there is no indication whatsoever that Djokovic will slow down even as kicks off a record extending 390th week atop the ATP rankings. A record extending 25th Grand Slam title beckons next year. Who would bet against this?