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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Explained: Why Djokovic, and not Federer or Nadal, is the Greatest of All Time

The Serb is now the only male player to have won each of the four Grand Slams at least twice. The question then arises, is Novak Djokovic the Greatest of All Time? Yes, and he has been for some time, according to the numbers.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 18, 2021 8:46:26 am
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning the French Open against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas. (Reuters Photo)

Novak Djokovic erased a two-set deficit against Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the French Open 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday. The Serb is now the only male player to have won each of the four Grand Slams at least twice. The question then arises, is Djokovic the Greatest of All Time? Yes, and he has been for some time, according to the numbers.

Ahead of the pack

Djokovic leads both Roger Federer (27-23) and Rafael Nadal (30-28 after the semifinal win on Friday) in head-to-head records. He is the only player to have wins over Federer and Nadal at all four Grand Slams. He’s also the only one to beat both in multiple Grand Slam finals, multiple Masters finals and in the final of the season-ending Championship.

The three heavyweights have decidedly favourite kingdoms, with Djokovic holding the record of most Australian Open wins (9) and most hardcourt Majors and Masters titles overall. But success against his closest rivals on their preferred surfaces sets Djokovic apart.

Clay-court specialist?

On clay, 13-time French Open champion Nadal expectedly pulls ahead 19-8. But those eight wins by Djokovic are the most by any player over Nadal on the surface. Djokovic is the only player to have beaten Nadal twice at Roland Garros, and to have beaten the Spaniard in all three clay-court Masters 1000 events.

Including the French Open win on Sunday, 17 of Djokovic’s 84 titles have come on clay. He is now 10th on the list of all-time clay-court title tallies, ahead of clay-court thoroughbreds like Carlos Moya, Andres Gomez and Gustavo Kuerten. His tally of 10 Masters titles on clay is second only to Nadal’s record of 26.

Supremacy on grass

From never playing on grass growing up — “To be honest, at first I did struggle a little bit on the grass to really understand how I need to move on the court,” he told ESPN in 2019 — Djokovic has won five Wimbledon titles.

Equally impressive is his record against eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer, who has the best win percentage on grass in the Open Era (87). Djokovic is 3-1 against Federer on grass, all three wins coming in the finals of Wimbledon.

On hardcourts, he is 20-18 against Federer and 20-7 against Nadal.

Outlasting, beating the elite

Nobody grinds five-setters out better than Djokovic. In matches that went the distance, Djokovic has a record of 35 wins and 10 losses; a win rate of 77. Nadal is 22-12 (63%) and Federer 32-23 (58%).

Djokovic also reigns supreme when it comes to matches against top-ten opponents. His win/loss record is 222-100; a success rate of 69. Both Federer (223-123) and Nadal (178-99) are at 64.

The race is much tighter against the top-five, but Djokovic remains ahead with a win rate of 60 to Nadal’s 59 and Federer’s 58 per cent.

Master of all

Djokovic is the benchmark of success in the Masters 1000 tournaments — the most prestigious series of events in men’s tennis after the four Grand Slams.

In 2018, he became the only singles player to complete the Career Golden Masters — completing the set of all nine Masters singles titles. In 2020, he claimed another set of nine to extend his record. He has the joint-most singles titles (36, tied with Nadal) and holds the record of most titles in one season (six in 2015).

Ranking, money

Djokovic also trumps all competition on two important parameters of success: world ranking and prize money.

The 34-year-old’s overall prize money across singles and doubles entering the French Open was $148 million, ahead of Federer ($130 million) and Nadal ($124 million). In April this year, he also set the record for most weeks as world No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. He overtook Federer’s mark of 310 weeks and is still going strong at 326 weeks.

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