Where does Novak Djokovic rank in the GOAT argument?
Whenever people gather together in the shadows and speak in hushed voices as to who the Greatest Of All Time is when it comes to tennis, it is always the usual suspects.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal surge ahead with a case of the recency bias, hotly pursued by Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, with Ivan Lendl and Bjorn Borg thrown in for good measure, with Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova making cameo appearances. But a name that never pops up in the list, at least not as often as it should is Novak Djokovic.
On Sunday, the Serbian accomplished something no other player has ever done - a career slam plus a career Golden Masters. For the uninitiated, this means winning all the 4 major Grand Slams and all the 9 Masters titles on the circuit.
Since the introduction of ATP Masters in 1990, no one else has come so far. Roger Federer is yet to conquer Rome and Monte Carlo; Nadal is yet to win Miami and Paris; Andy Murray is left with Indian Wells and Monte Carlo.
To imagine that Djokovic had fallen off the face of the Tennis world with the unlikely return of its two favourite heroes and an untimely injury to him, but his return to the fore with the Wimbledon title in the summer has brought him back to life, and therefore, his legacy. Where does Nole fit in the GOAT argument?
At 31, Djokovic is the proud owner of 13 Grand Slam titles, 4 behind Rafael Nadal's tally of 17 and 7 behind Federer's record high 20 titles. Only Pete Sampras stands between him and the other two, with no other active player on the circuit winning more than 5 GS.
In an era that seems utterly dominated by the Roger-Rafa duopoly, Novak's feat of winning 13 Slams is a feat in itself. This distinction now only further emphasizes what everyone has feared acknowledging - Novak is truly the more versatile player of his generation.
Federer's two absentee majors come in clay surfaces, while Paris and Miami once again point to Nadal's struggles with the hard surface. It should come at no surprise, to be honest - the Swiss' conservation-of-energy play style is not accommodated by the high bouncing nature of clay courts, and the hard surface takes a toll on the Spaniard's legs.
Djokovic, on the other hand, remains a dangerous hybrid of the two, and still an outsider. His defence is his greatest strength, while somehow remaining less mobile than the ever-running Nadal. His skill is next to no one, but one would be hard placed to bring to mind a graceful memory of the Serb.
Maybe that is why he never really features in the argument most of the time - by having a foot each on both sides, he never really belongs in either category. His fan following outside his own nation is nowhere near to that of the other two, as everyone seems to have already picked themselves a favourite.
Novak's 2015, where he won 3 Grand Slam titles and 6 Masters titles, along with the World Tour Finals is still pegged as the greatest ever season by a single Tennis player, and it is hard to argue with that.
In any other time period, Novak Djokovic would have been celebrated as the second coming of the Tennis God, and rightly so. Unfortunately for him, he has had to share the stage with two titans, and the fact that he has been a thorn in their sides constantly is a testament to just how good he is.
There is really no unanimous decision coming our way any time soon in the GOAT question. For too long, we have oscillated between Federer and Nadal as the prime contenders, with the rest of the pack way, way below. Now that Djokovic has thrown in his hat as well, it would be foolish not to consider him.