With the 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 demolition of Rafael Nadal in Sunday night’s Australian Open final the question has surfaced can Novak Djokovic catch and ultimately surpass Roger Federer in Grand Slam tournament wins.
Currently Federer is on 20 Slams, his last major victory coming at last years Australian Open over Marin Cilic. Rafael Nadal is on 17 Slams, his last major victory coming at last years French Open defeating Dominic Thiem. Novak now sits at 15 Slams, one more than Pete Sampras who must have thought his record was safe when he retired in 2002, nobody could have imagined that 3 players within one generation would pass the Sampras ‘Star Wars’ out of this world number of 14.
Consider how many Slams other legends of the game have, Borg 11, Lendl 8, Agassi 8, McEnroe 7, Becker 6; it puts into perspective what these 3 players have actually accomplished. We also have to remember that Laver on 11 and Rosewall on 8 lost years of their careers because they turned professional meaning they weren’t allowed to compete in the Grand Slams, so their numbers would surely be higher.
To make this purely a numbers game Federer is 37 years old, realistically he may have this season and the next if his body holds up, that’s 7 more chances to add to his total of 20 Slams, you can discount the French Open because there’s no way he can physically handle winning 7 matches on clay over 2 weeks, so that leaves the Swiss with 5 more chances, if the Australian Open continue with the Dunlop ball which has slowed the play down due to it’s fuzziness then that hurts Federer, see the Tsitsipas loss.
That leaves him with 4 chances, Wimbledon and the US Open, so many factors now come into it with Federer, court speed, weather conditions, the draw, could he beat Rafa and Novak in the semi and final if he had to? I’m going to say he could win one more, I’m going to say all those things could work in his favor, whether it be at Wimbledon or the US Open, the draw could open up, Novak or Rafa could lose along the way, the weather is favorable and the court is playing quick.
So if he did win one more Slam that gets him to 21. Let’s look at Rafa Nadal, he is 32 years old but I’d say his body is more like 34 or 35, he is more worn down than Federer, as evidenced by him changing his playing style this Australian Open, step up in the court more, serve bigger and hit the forehand up the line on a regular basis to shorten the points, let’s say he continues to play at this high level until he is 35, that’s 11 more chances to win a Slam.
His best bet is of course the French Open on his beloved clay; there is only a handful of players that could beat the Spaniard in Paris, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Thiem and Del Potro. He has three more chances to win the French Open; I’ll concede he could very well win it twice more, which would give him 19 Slams.
The question is can he win another Australian Open, Wimbledon or US Open where he is not as good and has had multiple retirements with injury due to the hard surface. I’ll give him one Slam from those three, which would get him to 20 Slams.
Now comes Djokovic, he is 31 years old and turns 32 this May, he has won the last 3 Slams, (Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open), he is just as good on any surface, grass, hard-court and clay. If you look through his career he’s had 2 other spurts of domination, once in 2011 where he won Australian, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open the following season, and again in 2015 where he won Australian, Wimbledon, US Open and the Australian the following season.
The question is how long can this spurt last? After he won his first French Open over Murray in 2016 he went through elbow injuries and loss of motivation, the Serbian spent 2 years in the Grand Slam wilderness when Federer and Nadal took over. At this point one more Slam this year is very conservative, I’d say he could very well win 2 more Slams which would get him to 17 Slams. At 31 years old I’ll give him 3 more seasons after this year at or near this level, that’s 12 more chances, with injuries and other players getting hot I’ll give him 4 more Slam victories which would get him to 21 Slams.
The wildcard in all this is can the other players step up and within the next 3 or 4 seasons steal a couple of these Slams from the big three? Can Thiem, Cilic, Anderson, Del Potro, Zverev, or Tsitsipas win 7 matches in 2 weeks and more than likely have to defeat at least 2 of the big 3 during that run. I can’t see it happening but somebody could get hot.
Either way Djokovic is now in the drivers seat, 21 Slams is conservative but with this current form if his motivation stays strong and he stays injury free 22 or 23 is reachable. So to answer the question could he end up with the most Slams in Mens Tennis history I’ll say yes.
There is also the real possibility the big three all end up on 21 Slams, wouldn’t that be something and probably a more fitting way to end this Star Wars generation.