Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon congratulates the best player in the world on yet another milestone.

Take a bow, Novak Djokovic.

While we had predicted a week ago that men’s tennis might be entering a new era if Daniil Medvedev could merely make the final in Rotterdam—instead, he crashed out in the first round—it turns out that we weren’t quite far off the mark.

Because the week of March 8, 2021, is indeed historic and it’s not quite, or only, because Roger Federer has returned to the sport in Doha. No, rather it’s all mostly thanks to Djokovic.

The Serb wakes up this morning in the exact same spot atop the ATP rankings he was when he went to bed last night, but everything’s changed now. You see, today marks the 311st week that the 33-year-old has occupied the No. 1 ranking. 

Just any other week? Yeah, not quite.

Why is it such a big deal?

The answer here is pretty simple. Djokovic is now officially the man who’s been ranked No. 1 the most weeks in the history of men’s tennis. (In the grand scheme of things, his tally of 311 weeks is still more than one full year behind Steffi Graf, who’s at a cool 377 weeks at No. 1. In other words, Graf was and still is ridiculous and ridiculously underrated.)

In a sport like men’s tennis, where attention is a currency and where attention is typically hogged by the daily goings of Rafael Nadal and Federer, this is monumental for Djokovic. Not only does it give the Serb another rung to his list of career achievements, it also takes one away from one of his biggest rivals. Sites like bet-or.com follow the tennis calendar annually and always highlight your favourite players.

What does it mean in the grand scheme of things?

Well if you mean what does it mean in the scheme of things like the history of the world and the universe, this doesn’t mean anything. We are but a speck of light in the universe, etc. etc.

But what does it mean in the scheme of things in men’s tennis? It’s pretty massive, really.

Because men’s tennis tends to crown and rank its champions by the number of major titles they have won, and because Djokovic currently trails both Nadal and Federer there, he must make up ground wherever he can.

Look, that’s pretty much what he’s doing. He’s the player with the most weeks at No. 1, but Djokovic has also won the most career prize money and the second highest career winning percentage behind Nadal. He has completed the career Grand Slam, which both Nadal and Federer did, and at one point held all four major titles, which neither Nadal nor Federer did.

Do you want more?

Djokovic is the greatest serve returner of all time and has the second most ATP World Tour Finals titles (behind Federer) and the most Masters 1000 titles. He also sports a winning head-to-head record against both Federer and Nadal, and his decade from 2010 through 2019 is as dominant as anything we’ve ever seen.

In other words, just about the only place where the Serb doesn’t have the edge is in the all-important Grand Slam titles. Otherwise, he’s almost cleaning house. Does that all make him the clear greatest men’s tennis player of all time? Probably, but it’s still subjective. If Djokovic can grab the edge for Grand Slams, then it shouldn’t be all that subjective anymore.

But what if Djokovic doesn’t get the Grand Slam titles?

What’s crazy about all of this is that ultimately, Djokovic might finish his career one Grand Slam behind Nadal and Federer. If, say, he passes Federer and gets to Grand Slam No. 22 but still lags behind Nadal, who spends the next few years adding French Open titles to his name to get to a tally of 23.

Do you know what that would mean?

That’s right.

This would mean that the one thing preventing Djokovic from being hailed as the clear-cut best player in men’s tennis history would be… wait for it…Djokovic’s disqualification at the 2020 US Open.

What a wonderful world and sport this one is.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

2 COMMENTS

  1. Winning slams is given too much weight. Although Novak has won two fewer slams than Rafa and Roger, he has reached the same number of slam finals as Rafa, and has reached FIVE MORE semifinals and five more quarter finals. Rafa has lost early in slams much more than Novak.
    Novak is the all-time champion for weeks at number one. 316 weeks as of this writing, and almost definitely will make it to 331 weeks by the end of Wimbledon (passing Serena on the way, and one week short of Martina at that point, but still 45 weeks behind Steffi Graf). If he can keep the number one streak going, he could hold it all year, and reach more than 350 weeks. Roger is 2nd at 310. Rafa is down in the low 200s. Rafa, however, has a comfortable lead in the weeks at number one or two category…over 600!
    Novak’s Grans Slam, holding all four Majors at once is amazing, but even more amazing is the fact that he beat something like 31 top ten players in 2015, a record that boggles the mind. The next highest number for beating top ten players in one year is in the low teens.
    Rafa’s hardcourt percentage is in the low 70s. Novak is the only player who has above 80% winning percentage on all three main surfaces (grass, hard, and clay). Roger is higher on grass and lower on clay.
    In terms of total wins, Roger still has a big edge, and it’s looking like he will catch Jimmy Connors all-time record, should Roger’s injury heal well. The question is: Will Roger ever catch Jimmy’s record for all-time tournament wins (109)? Only if he concentrates on some smaller tournaments, 250s or 500s…even then it won’ be easy….he only needs five or six more, but the competition is getting tougher every day. Rafa has over 1000 wins now. He, too could become the all-time leader in three years. Imagine being the all-time leader in wins and winning percentage? The underrated Connors was for a long time. He’s still fourth on the list after Rafa Novak, and Borg, who had a short career.
    Novak’s double career Masters slam is really something special. No one else has won seven of the Masters,a nd Novak has won all nine at least twice each. That’s more impressive than slam sins to me…..three sets being a better judge of tennis skills than five….everyone is trying just as hard to win the Masters as they are the slams.
    As far as H2H rivalries, Roger gets short-changed here, because he had a comfortable lead over Novak until he reached 31, the age Pete Sampras retired. Novak came into his prime and began to edge Roger, and it’s only becaue of the three GS matches that Novak stole from Roger, after being down double set point, that Novak hass the lead. Roger also has a H2H lead against Rafa on two of the three surfaces. Most of their meetings have come on clay, mainly because Rafa was beaten often on fast courts, so he didn’t make it to the finals of a lot of fast court tournaments, whereas Roger made the finals of clay tournaments all the time. Roger was celarly the second best clay courter of his prime, miles ahead of everyone BUT Rafa. Rafa was not always the second best hard court player.
    Roger’s peak of five years is more impressive than anyone else’s. He also had the best SINGLE year. But Novak had a ten year run better than anyone’s, and he had a one year record (2015) and a five year record that are second best, and close to Roger’s best.
    I’m still giving the GOAT to Roger. Novak is a close second. Rafa is a close third After the clay season, things will change. Then they’ll change again after the hard court season……

  2. The fact that Rafa never won the YEC has to count against him, while Roger and Novak have won it many times. Novak is still third in total tiltes won, but he is a solid leader in top tournaments won, including Masters, slams, and YEC. Both Rofa nad Novak have a chance of surpassing Roger and Jimmy Connors for the most career tournament wins. But all it takes is one younger player to step up and take over the game for all this to change….Sinner? Hurcacz? Medvedev? Felix AA? Tsitsipas? time will tell…..

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