Is It Game Over For Novak Djokovic?
His performance at the French Open will have an answer
Is this the beginning of the end for Novak Djokovic? Perhaps it is too much to read into just one loss in a semifinal at the Australian Open and his supporters would like to think that this is just a blip and the Serb will be back to his winning ways at the French Open and beyond.
But there are certain factors too which can lead one to believe that it will be very difficult for Djokovic to add to his record Grand Slam tally of 24 titles and that he may not get past the mark of Margaret Court which he shares now.
Always hungry for success, eager to conquer more peaks and very fit and mentally strong at 36 Djokovic sets his sights far and wide in keeping with his exalted status as the No 1 player in the world and the one with most Grand Slam titles among males, two more than the next best Rafael Nadal.
After a highly successful 2023 during which he won three of the four Grand Slams and finishing runner-up in the fourth Djokovic spoke about his ambition to go for the Golden Slam this year, winning all four Grand Slams to go with the Olympic gold. This is a feat that has never been notched up by any male player and has been achieved only once – by Steffi Graf in 1988.
And yet it did not appear to be an unreasonable objective given the fact that it was Djokovic who said it. That ambition has already been scuttled with his semi final defeat at the Australian Open but one is sure that he will strive hard at the other three Grand Slam events for one suspects he wants that record breaking title No. 25 quite badly.
However, the odds are against him even after taking into account that he has won three of the four Grand Slams four times: 2011, 2015, 2021 and 2023. That is a superlative record and one of Djokovic’s several notable achievements.
He will be 37 in May and while no one can question his physical fitness or mental strength, age does catch up with any sportsman sooner or later. It is to Djokovic’s credit that he has staved off the challenge from a whole lot of younger players. But they have been closing the gap steadily and most impactful of all, the number of such players is growing with each passing year.
When the Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer were dominating the first challenge came from the quartet of Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsistipas and Daniil Medvedev. Admirably, they performed around the ATP tour, winning Masters 1000 tournaments and even the year ending Tour finals, their record at the Grand Slams always kept them some steps behind.
Then Federer retired, and now Nadal has already announced this will be his last year on the circuit. In the last couple of years Djokovic on his own has kept the younger brigade at bay. Among them Thiem has fallen badly while Tsitipas has not lived up to his early promise even though he is just about holding his place in the top ten.
But Medvedev and Zverev are still very much around as among the top half a dozen players in the game. The fact that Medvedev reached the Australian Open final and Zverev was a semifinalist is proof that they remain strong challengers. Besides reaching the Australian Open final thrice Medvedev has a Grand Slam title under his belt having won the US Open in 2021.
Over the last couple of years there have been other fast rising young contenders and what is most important they have been good enough to win Grand Slam events. Jannik Sinner has just won the Australian Open while Carlos Alcaraz won the US Open in 2022 and Wimbledon last year.
Alcaraz in fact briefly held the No. 1 ranking in 2022 while Sinner has had a rapid rise to be No 4 currently. Sinner is 22 and Alcaraz 20 and both have age very much on their side. Alcaraz who is ranked No 2 has closed the gap considerably and right now he is only some 600 points behind Djokovic.
Andrey Rublev and Holger Rune are two others who have climbed up the ladder swiftly and are in the top ten and though their performance at Grand Slam events has been below par they are in there pitching. Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz are other young players whose challenge must be taken seriously.
Yes, there is a whole army of prodigiously talented and very ambitious GenNext players who are eager to make it to the top and it is not going to be easy for Djokovic to hold on to his No 1 spot or to win more Grand Slams.