It’s too early to say who the greatest men’s player of all time is, but the Serb’s win at Roland Garros was another jewel in the GOAT crown that he may wear one day.
“Everything is possible,” Novak Djokovic likes to say. He said it again on Sunday at his post-match press conference at Roland Garros. Which makes sense, because only someone who believes that everything is possible could have pulled off what he pulled off over the last three days.
In the semifinals, Djokovic handed Rafael Nadal his third loss in 108 matches in Paris; less than 48 hours later, he came back back from two sets to love down to beat a player 12 years his junior, Stefanos Tsitsipas. Both matches lasted four hours and 11 minutes.
Djokovic has had other amazing final weekends at Grand Slams in the past, including back-to-back wins over Nadal and Roger Federer in New York, and back-to-back epics against Andy Murray and Nadal in Melbourne. But this one may take the cake, because it came at the Slam where he has had, relatively speaking, his least success.
“I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours,” Djokovic said. “Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career. It was a big day for Novak Djokovic and his fans—this one, in particular.
Now that Paris has fallen to him for a second time, Djokovic’s next stop may be GOAT City. It’s still too early to make a definitive declaration about who the greatest men’s tennis player of all time is, we have to wait until Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have played their final matches and all the numbers are in. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take stock of where the three stand today. It’s clear that Djokovic is in the process of putting together a formidable, and possibly unmatchable, resume.
- His second Roland Garros win gives him 19 Grand Slam singles titles, and pulls him to within one of the men’s co-leaders, Nadal and Federer. (Pete Sampras is well back in fourth place with 14.)
- Djokovic is the first man since Rod Laver to win each Grand Slam tournament twice, and the only one to a win double career Slam during the Open era. He’s also the only man since Laver to win four majors in a row.
- He has won all nine Masters 1000 titles, as well as the ATP’s year-end championships, at least twice. No one else has done that once.
- Djokovic has been ranked No. 1 for a men’s-record 324 weeks, and he’s unlikely to give up that spot anytime soon. Federer is second at 310, and Nadal is sixth at 209.
- Djokovic leads Nadal 30-28, and Federer 27-23, in their head to heads.
Djokovic’s win over Nadal, and his title at Roland Garros, opens up another question: How many times can he win in Paris, and will he have the edge on Rafa in future meetings there? Djokovic has won 81 matches at the French Open, but because he was 1-7 against Nadal, he had only one title to show for it before today.
Numbers will ultimately decide who wears the mythical GOAT crown, and the Grand Slam title count will be the most important of them. But great players are more than their numbers. Over the course of his eight hours on court this weekend, we had to chance to see why Djokovic may go down as the greatest male player of all time. For me, his GOAT moment came in the final game against Tsitsipas.
After four hours, and after coming back from two sets down, Djokovic reached championship point, only to see Tsitsipas erase it with a down-the-line backhand winner that curled in from the double alley. How did Djokovic react? He put together what might have been his best, most aggressive, most confident, most logical rally of the match, which he ended with a forehand winner.
It wasn’t a point that said “everything is possible.” It was a point that said, no matter how far behind he was, and no matter what his opponent did, only one thing was possible in this match: A Djokovic win.