Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps Novak Djokovic’s latest triumph at the 2018 Wimbledon.
Don’t look now but it appears that the new Novak Djokovic is the same as the old one and that the Serb is alright once more.
We asked the question ahead of time before Wimbledon, trying to determine what a triumph at the 2018 edition might mean for the legacy of a handful of players, so it’s only right that we delve deeper on the topic this week.
Especially since, you know, we had said that Djokovic would be the one who would most benefit from a win and that it’s precisely him who captured the Wimbledon Trophy.
Seeded No. 12 to start the two-week event in England, the Djoker rampaged through a somewhat easy section of the draw to find himself standing across the net from Rafael Nadal in the semifinal for a battle that he had seemed custom-made for not too long ago.
But of course, this “not too long ago” period might as well have been a lifetime away. In the two years since capturing the 2016 French Open crown and a career Grand Slam, the Serb had spent his time being too injured, hurt, bothered with personal or coaching matter or otherwise entirely unmotivated to compete at anywhere close to his peak.
The man who had been at the very centre of every happening in men’s tennis for about five years was suddenly inconsequential to its narrative arc. What’s happening with Novak?, we wondered. Who knew, and meanwhile there were a whole bunch of other matches played and competed with nary a person hearing a peep from Djokovic.
That is, until the Wimbledon semifinal against his rival of old.
From there, the 31-year-old went on to overwhelm fellow finalist Kevin Anderson and capture, as mentioned, his biggest title in over two years. And now suddenly, he’s back in the ATP World Tour Top 10.
Perhaps even more encouraging than Djokovic’s 13th major title is the manner with which he captured it. It’s not so much that he beat Nadal, it’s that he beat him in a match where both players were at their peak physical form and a match in which he outplayed the Spaniard in the fifth set of the match when he saved five break points and converted on his opportunity.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2018
As a result of this win, Djokovic now has 69 career titles including 13 of the ever-important Grand Slams, which puts him one ahead of Roy Emerson and one behind Pete Sampras there. Considering the way he played in Wimbledon, the Serb will definitely be among the favourites at the US Open late this summer and no matter what happens on the US Open Series until then.
From there, it’s not much of a leap to see Djokovic emerging as the central force in men’s tennis once again—and, who knows, maybe even capturing this title at Flushing Meadows.
And for our money, if he does all that, then he’d definitely have to factor into any future conversations about who the greatest player of all time is.
????Novak Djokovic career Slams, Masters, WTFs????
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 15, 2018
Hyperbole, you say? Not so much. Djokovic is already very likely the best returner the sport has ever seen. He’s won everything there is to win except for an Olympic gold medal (likely overrated) and a random Cincinnati Masters 1000 (also, likely overrated). Now if you give him the upcoming US Open, suddenly he’s no. 3 for career Grand Slams looking up at only two of his contemporaries in Nadal and Roger Federer.
You say that this should mean something, that Fed and Nadal are ahead of him for a reason, and sure enough it does. But don’t forget that Djokovic will have managed all these milestones and wins while playing in the most competitive era in men’s tennis, while playing against the two.
Not only that, but right now the Serb is No. 1 all time for winning percentage on hard courts, fifth on clay courts and seventh on grass; meanwhile, only Bjorn Borg has a better career record in the fifth and deciding set.
Regarding his lack of Grand Slams compared to both Federer and Nadal, the gap isn’t large enough that we should overlook the fact that Djokovic has a positive head-to-head record against the two. How can the two be the two best players in history if their chief rival has beaten both more often than they have him?
If nothing else, Djokovic will likely finish his career atop the all-time prize list winners. We’re not saying it means everything, but it means something.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 15, 2018
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG