The question put to Novak Djokovic after he won the French Open for his 19th Grand Slam title, moving within one of rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s record, was whether he ever was resigned to not being able to catch them.
The context: Entering the 2011 season, Federer owned 16 major championships, Nadal nine and Djokovic one.
And while Djokovic began by offering a direct answer Sunday night following his 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas, saying he didn’t consider it “a mission impossible” to bring his trophy collection in line with the other members of the Big Three, what followed was instructive.
“I’ll keep on going. I’ll keep on chasing,” Djokovic said about the Slam standings that everyone has been tracking for a while now as each surpassed the benchmark of 14 established by Pete Sampras.
In the very next breath, Djokovic added: “At the same time, I’ll keep on paving my own path, which is my own authentic path. We — all three of us — have our own journeys, and that’s it.”
So true. So important to remember. Because what Djokovic seemed to be saying was: Judge me on my own merits. Look at what I am accomplishing. Let’s not worry about the Grand Slam total. Please don’t just view me in comparison to Federer and Nadal.
He’s right. Give him his due. Instead of analyzing the considerable amount of achievement attained by Djokovic through the prism of how he stacks up with the other two, take stock of his path.
This is not to imply that Djokovic’s reputation or legacy would suffer when the trio is grouped together.
If anything, the exact opposite is true.
— His semifinal win over Nadal at Roland Garros increased Djokovic’s lead in their series to 30-28, and he leads Federer head-to-head, too, 27-23.
— Djokovic is the only man to beat 13-time champion Nadal twice at the French Open and is 3-1 against eight-time champion Federer at Wimbledon (3-0 in finals, including saving championship points in 2019).
— Djokovic is the only one of the three — indeed, the only man in the Open era, which began in 1968 — to win each Grand Slam title twice (Nadal has one at the Australian Open; Federer has one at the French Open) and the only one to win four majors in a row (he did that in 2015-16).
— Djokovic holds the record for most weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, eclipsing Federer’s mark.
— Djokovic is the only man to have won each Masters 1000 event twice.
— Djokovic, 34, has won seven majors since his 30th birthday, an Open era record; Nadal, 35, is at six, and Federer, 39, is at four.
When play begins at the All England Club on June 28, Djokovic will be the two-time defending champion and can set his sights on pursuing a calendar-year Grand Slam. He even can aim for a Golden Slam, with a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics thrown in for good measure.
“As (long) as Novak is healthy — and he’s healthy right now; he’s in great shape — I think he has ability to win the Grand Slam for this year. I’m pretty sure,” said Marian Vajda, one of Djokovic’s coaches, who joked that he and the other person who works with him, Goran Ivanisevic, would quit if their guy wins all four majors in 2021.
Djokovic was a bit more sober about the topic, reminding everyone that he had a shot to pursue a historic season in 2016 after winning the Australian Open and French Open but lost in the third round at Wimbledon.
But he wouldn’t rule anything out for 2021.
Why should he, given what he already has done?
“I mean, definitely in my case, I can say that what I’ve been through in my career, in my life, this journey has been terrific so far. I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible for me to achieve,” Djokovic said.
Moments later, he added: “I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days’ time. I don’t have an issue to say that I’m going for the title in Wimbledon. Of course I am.”