Is Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record in jeopardy?
The year was 2012 and Roger Federer had won his 7th Wimbledon title and 17th Grand Slam overall. The crowd at the All England Club boisterously applauded the Swiss maestro’s efforts. After all, it looked like a record that needed something special to beat. At the time, Novak Djokovic had won 5 Grand Slams and Rafael Nadal had 11 Grand Slams to his name.
Fast forward to 2016 and Djokovic has 12 Grand Slams and Nadal stands at 14. People are now asking if Djokovic can complete the Calendar Slam. With the Olympics just around the corner and with the current form he’s in, the question that one should be asking is if Djokovic can complete the Golden Slam (All 4 Grand Slams and the Olympic Gold) in a calendar year?
The surface being used at the Rio Olympics is a hard court which is Djokovic’s forte. The only other tennis player (male or female) to have achieved the Golden Slam in a calendar year is Steffi Graf in 1988.
Djokovic currently shares his record with the Australian great Roy Emerson. Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras at 14 titles are not too far away. Djokovic has completed his Career Slam and is now at an all-time high after winning the French Open, the one title that has eluded even big names like Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
Having forced Federer to settle for the runner-up trophy the last two years and with Rafael Nadal pulling out of the tournament due to a wrist injury, Novak will fancy his chances at Wimbledon this year.
Federer still working on his game
Although age is not on his side, Federer hasn’t stopped experimenting. He added the SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger) to his arsenal in the US Open last year. The SABR involves taking the opponent’s second serve on the half volley a few metres inside the baseline and then advancing to the net to intercept the return. This was new in an age where the only time the opponents come to the net is to shake hands before and after the match.
In 2015 at Wimbledon, it was as if Federer was back to his old days, simply unleashing poetry on court. Roger was at his best against Andy Murray in the semi-final with his ever so elegant single-handed backhands, delicate drop shots and those gracious but powerful forehands only to falter at the final hurdle against Novak Djokovic. And that was not all. Federer also lost to Novak in the finals of the 2015 US Open Finals and the semi-finals at Melbourne this year.
The game has largely been dominated by Roger, Rafa and Djokovic with the trio winning 36 of the last 42 Grand Slam titles. Big hitting players like Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga do pose a threat with Wawrinka and Cilic having won Grand Slams. But Djokovic seems unflustered.
His Federer like calm demeanour and Nadal like doggedness has made him an unstoppable force. And like all champions, he is a man who is not beaten till the last point. Under the tutelage of 6 time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker, Novak seems to have mastered every aspect of the game.
A very strict diet and a grueling practice regimen have helped him keep fit throughout the two weeks of the tournament and has allowed him to play those marathon matches without losing his cool.
Can Federer’s record be broken?
Novak Djokovic turned 29 last month and definitely has a good 3-4 years of quality tennis left in him. And now it is safe to say that Novak has set his eyes on Federer’s record. Sampras’ and Nadal’s record would be easy for him to beat considering the form he’s in and the string of injuries that has hampered Nadal’s career.
Novak finally got the monkey off his back after clinching the French Open this year and could possibly start playing free flowing tennis in the tournaments to follow. Novak has won 5 Australian Open titles in the last 6 years and it would take something special to beat him at Melbourne.
The US Open might be challenging considering the fact that there have been 4 different winners in the last 5 years. A couple of Slams at Wimbledon and add to that a couple more triumphs at Melbourne and Flushing Meadows and Novak would easily beat Federer’s record.
Also read: Just how good can Novak Djokovic become?
Djokovic is currently playing like a man who’s been possessed and all this could be possible in a little over a year’s time. If Novak can continue his strict regimes and keep playing this, then 17 Grand Slams looks very easily achievable.
But Novak will not take it easy. Although this year has been disappointing, Federer was in great form in the second half of 2015. One can argue that, at 34, Federer doesn’t have too many years left. But it isn’t over till the master says it’s over!
It is said that no one knows the vagaries of the Wimbledon grass better than Roger Federer and if he can replicate last year’s form then he could possibly deny Novak the elusive Calendar Slam provided there aren’t any upsets. If Rafael Nadal can recover in time for the Summer Olympics and the US Open then things could get really interesting.
Novak needs 5 more slams to equal Roger’s record and it doesn’t look impossible. The newer crop of players will make things difficult with their big serves and the ability to play long rallies. If Federer decides to call it quits soon, then things will just open up for Djokovic to go down as the greatest player to have played the game.
Novak already has one foot firmly in the record books and by my estimates, it wouldn’t be long before he breaks Roger Federer’s record and creates history.
If all goes well, the Djoker will have the last laugh.