It's time to consider Novak Djokovic in the GOAT debate
When it comes to the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate, the discussion over the past 5-6 years has been largely restricted to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Rod Laver. It seems almost unfair that one of the greatest baseline strokemakers, Novak Djokovic's name wasn't in the mix. Well, that has to end now. Period!
It is evident that whenever Novak plays against Rafa, Federer or even Del Potro for that matter, the crowd do their fair bit to frustrate him - from cheering his double faults to even jeering him at times. But the wafer-thin Serb has managed to take all that in his stride and maintain a winning record against all of his illustrious contemporaries. No mean feat hat!
Widely regarded to have the greatest return of serve in tennis, Djokovic has used it to lethal advantage over the years. His precise groundstrokes matching his propensity to limit unforced errors has helped him wear his opponents down on innumerable circumstances.
The aura of invincibility which he showed throughout 2015 and in the first half of 2016 which culminated with him being the only man in the Open Era to hold all 4 Grand Slams at the same time is testimony to his greatness. His struggles coming into Wimbledon seemed more mental than physical as he himself pointed out several times.
Losing to Del Potro in Rio 2016 left him in tears and was the beginning of his slump, a slump which lasted almost 2 full years. From losing to Dennis Istomin to getting bageled by Dominic Thiem, Djokovic has had quite a few embarrassing defeats for a person of his glittering resume.
Nole as he is fondly called made subtle changes to his serve post his elbow surgery. In the lead-up to Wimbledon, it seemed that his biggest Achilles' heel would be his service. He reunited with this long-time coach Marian Vajda, switched to a slightly thinner and lighter racquet and worked out his service game perfectly.
It seemed that the introduction of a time clock at the US Open would hurt Djokovic the most among all players because of his propensity to bounce the ball anywhere from 10-20 times before serving. Yet again he proved all doubters wrong and looked to seamlessly adjust his service game to the new rule.
Looking forward to the 2019 Australian Open, it is taken for certainty that Djokovic, a winner at Melbourne on 6 different occasions will start as the hot favourite considering his rich form. With Federer now inching towards an age of 38 years and also considering the fact that the Australian Open is not one of Nadal's productive tournaments, it seems unlikely that anyone else can stop Djokovic from claiming his 7th Australian Open and in the process overtaking Pete Sampras' Grand Slam tally of 14.
Just like that, he could be just 2 Grand Slam titles behind Nadal's tally. Considering that the age at which male tennis players attain peak performance seems to be on the ascendancy and having seen Federer become World No. 1 at 36, it doesn't sound unlikely at all that 31- year-old Djokovic dominates men's tennis for a couple of years more at least.