Novak Djokovic is an integral part of the 'Big 3' trio that has dominated the current generation of men's tennis. In many ways though, he has surpassed Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; some argue that he is a greater player than both of them.
While his place in the GOAT conversation may be debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that Djokovic has been the most dominant male player in the last decade. He has won at least 2 Slams in 4 separate years during this time, more than any other player, and has ended as the year-end No. 1 in 4 separate years - again, more than any other player.
Djokovic is also one of just 5 men in the Open Era to have completed the Career Grand Slam, and one of just 2 men to have held all the 4 Slams at the same time.
Best finish at each of the four Grand Slams:
Australian Open: 6-time Champion (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)
French Open: Champion (2016)
Wimbledon: 4-time Champion (2011, 2014, 2015, 2018)
US Open: 3-time Champion (2011, 2015, 2018)
Highest Ranking: No. 1
No. of weeks at No. 1: 223
Style of play, strengths and weaknesses
Djokovic is widely considered to be the most perfectly balanced player in the world. He is an aggressive counterpuncher with no noticeable weaknesses, and is equally competent in most of the important aspects of tennis.
Djokovic has a consistent forehand which he can hit flat as well as with spin, and he uses it to patiently construct points in his favor. His backhand, however, is his more celebrated wing. Hitting it with a short back-swing and a semi-closed stance, Djokovic has turned his backhand into a game-changer. His crosscourt backhand often goes deep and penetrates through his court, and his down-the-line backhand can change the dynamic of any point in a matter of seconds.
Djokovic's serve is not the biggest, but it is effective. His second serve is one of the best in the world, as he often aims for the lines and finds them. But it is his return of serve that has made him such a special player.
Using his remarkable flexibility and anticipation to devastating effect, Djokovic can send back even the best serve to a spot that is uncomfortable for his opponent. He is equally sharp on his forehand and backhand return, and can both attack and defend depending on the situation. Many consider him to be the best returner the sport has ever seen.
Djokovic's footwork and speed are also among the best in the world. His defense can rival that of Nadal on non-clay surfaces, and he is capable of sliding even on grass and hardcourts. His passing shots on the dead run are impeccable; hitting them with an open stance, he often pulls off seemingly impossible gets to leave his opponents stranded at the net.
The only area where Djokovic is not among the best in the world is net play. He doesn't always choose the right time to approach the net, and he has made a mess of more than his fair share of overheads during the course of his career. But over the years he has improved even in this aspect, for which a large part of the credit is attributed to Boris Becker's coaching.
Significant Novak Djokovic records
Djokovic is younger than Federer and Nadal so he still has a bit of time to catch up to them in most stats. However, he already has quite a few unique records to his name, which can be summarized as follows:
- One of only 2 players (along with Rod Laver) in the Open Era to have held all the 4 Slams at the same time
- Only player to have held all the 4 Slams at the same time on 3 different surfaces
- Only player to have won all the 9 ATP Masters 1000 titles
- Only player to have won 6 or more ATP Masters 1000 titles in a single year (2015)
- Highest winning percentage on hardcourts of all time (84%)
- One of only 2 players to have defeated Rafael Nadal at the French Open (2015)
- Only player to have defeated Rafael Nadal at all 3 claycourt Masters (Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome)
Djokovic was born in Belgrade. He played his early tennis in his home country before moving to Germany at the age of 12 in search of greater competition.
Djokovic's first coach was Jelena Gencic, who spotted his talent when he was just 6 years old. In later years, he forged a long-term coaching relationship with Marian Vajda, who he worked with from 2006 to 2013, and again from 2018 onwards. He was also coached by Boris Becker from 2014 to 2016, and by Andre Agassi in 2017. His stint with Becker was the most productive phase of his career, as he won 6 out of a possible 12 Slams in that 3-year period.
Djokovic's wife is Jelena Ristic, whom he met in 2005 and married in 2014. The couple have two children - Stefan (born in 2014) and Tara (born in 2017).
Djokovic's younger brothers Marko and Djordje also play tennis, but so far they haven't achieved anywhere as much success as him.
Rivalries and legacy
Djokovic has a winning head-to-head record against all of his primary rivals, which is the biggest reason why he is considered by some to be the greatest player of all time.
The Serb is younger than both Federer and Nadal, and in his early career he had lopsided losing records against both of them. However, from 2011 onwards he has dramatically overturned the dynamics, and now boasts of an upper hand in the head-to-head count against both.
The Nadal vs Djokovic rivalry is best exemplified by their titanic battle in the 2012 Australian Open final. The match, which lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, featured numerous grueling rallies and was finally won by Djokovic after a true war of attrition.
Djokovic is unfortunate to have been born in the Federer-Nadal era. It is not preposterous to assume he would've had 20+ Slams already if he didn't have to contend with the 2 greatest players of all time. However, the most remarkable thing about the Serb is that he has carved out a Hall-of-Fame career for himself anyway; despite having to face Federer and Nadal in many of his biggest matches, he is still within touching distance of their Slam tallies.
This ability to challenge and eventually dominate the 2 GOAT candidates is what separates him from every other player in tennis history. There has never been an era in which 3 GOAT candidates were competing at the same time, and the fact that Djokovic has won so many titles despite being the youngest of the 3, while also achieving something that the other 2 haven't (all 4 Slams at the same time), suggests that he may well end up as the greatest player of all time.
Another thing that makes Djokovic special is the way he reacts to adversity. He has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat numerous times, most memorably in the 2010 US Open semifinal against Federer where he saved 2 match points before going on to win. That was jaw-dropping already, but Djokovic did a stunning repeat act a year later; in the 2011 US Open semifinal, again against Federer, he again saved 2 match points before going on to win. The forehand return winner that he smacked to save the 2nd match point is possibly the most famous shot in tennis history.
Djokovic has also faced plenty of turmoil in his personal life; he suffered severe lack of motivation after winning the French Open in 2016, and went through demoralizing injuries and coach changes for much of 2017 and early 2018 which saw his ranking plummet outside the top 20. But he put all that aside to win Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018, thus re-establishing his position at the top of men's tennis.
Social media presence:
Novak Djokovic Instagram: @djokernole
Novak Djokovic Twitter: @djokernole