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Novak Djokovic's lack of popularity doesn't affect his GOAT credentials, says Ivan Lendl

  • Ivan Lendl believes Novak Djokovic is a strong contender in the GOAT race despite his relative unpopularity.
  • According to Lendl, both Djokovic and Federer were nervous at Wimbledon 2019 because of the stakes that were involved.
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Modified 09 May 2020, 05:08 IST

Novak Djokovic saved championship points to down Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final.
Novak Djokovic saved championship points to down Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final.

With his Wimbledon 2019 win, Novak Djokovic raised his stature even further and closed the gap in the race to be the 'Greatest of all time' (GOAT). And even though Djokovic remains far less popular than his Big 3 peers, Ivan Lendl believes that should not come into the equation when determining who the best of the three is.

Lendl spoke about Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in an interview with reporter Craig Gabriel, and offered some strong views on the GOAT race.

Novak Djokovic famously saved two championship points against Roger Federer in an epic Wimbledon final last year. Despite being second best for large swathes of the match and receiving a great deal of hostility from the pro-Federer crowd, Djokovic was clutch when it mattered most.

The Serb won all three tiebreaks, including a historic first-ever tiebreak in a fifth set at Wimbledon. The result made him the first player in the Open Era to win the grasscourt Major after saving championship points.

How has the Wimbledon 2019 win strengthened Novak Djokovic's GOAT case?

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

By winning his 16th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2019, Novak Djokovic moved two clear of fourth-placed Pete Sampras (14) and within four titles of all-time Grand Slam leader Roger Federer. And according to Lendl, those numbers are the only thing that matter - irrespective of who gets more support from the fans.

"Affection of the public should not be in the equation," Lendl said. "Who is the most popular is one thing but who is the greatest is not being judged by popularity."

At 8-7, 40-15 in the fifth set of that epic final, Federer was a swing of his racquet away from becoming the oldest player in the Open Era to lift a Grand Slam title. But more importantly from the GOAT perspective, Federer would have moved to 21 Grand Slam titles and five ahead of Djokovic.

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The rest, as we all know, is history. Federer made a forehand error on his first championship point and Novak Djokovic hit a rasping cross-court forehand pass to erase the second. Two points later the set was back on serve, and Centre Court descended into stunned silence.

Lendl offered his views on the ramifications of Federer's missed opportunities to close out the match by remarking:

"The Wimbledon finals last year was so fascinating with Roger losing from two match points up, because if he moved to 21 and Novak stayed at 16, that would have been a difference of five. Now it's just three. It's much harder to win five than three."
"When I watched (the final) I saw both players were extremely nervous. I strongly believe they were so nervous because they both knew if Roger jumped to a lead of five, it would be very difficult to catch him," Lendl added.

Novak Djokovic closing in on the all-time Grand Slam record

Novak Djokovic hoists aloft his fifth Wimbledon and 16th Grand Slam title in 2019
Novak Djokovic hoists aloft his fifth Wimbledon and 16th Grand Slam title in 2019

When asked his views about the GOAT topic, Lendl asserted that the race is far from over as all the three candidates - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - are still active.

The Serb, of course, is the best-placed among the three to add more titles to his collection, and he has been doing exactly that since his epoch-making win at Wimbledon. During an unbeaten 18-0 start to the 2020 season, Novak Djokovic won a record-extending eighth title at the Australian Open to move to 17 Grand Slam titles.

This is the closest the Serb has ever been to the Grand Slam record. Only Rafael Nadal (19) stands between Djokovic and Roger Federer (20) in the all-time Grand Slam leaderboard.

Lendl further said that at the end of the day, it is the Major titles that define a player's greatness - regardless of the era they may have played in, the equipment they used or the training regimen they followed.

"The Majors are what you are judged by, at least that's what in my mind people are being judged by and what I judge people by. The rest of it yes, the number of weeks at No. 1, the number of year-end No. 1s, yes the number of ATP season-ending titles, things like that. With Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, it doesn't matter as they all played at the same time and had the same opportunities."

Published 09 May 2020, 05:08 IST
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