By Megan Wilson
Three names in tennis have dominated the field over the past two decades; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Often referred to as the ‘big three’, they have surpassed all previous generations in their race towards the becoming greatest male tennis player of all time, claiming a total of 60 Grand Slam titles between them.
On Sunday July 11 2021 defending champion Djokovic, 34, secured his third successive and sixth overall Wimbledon title at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, defeating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in the final (6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3). His victory brings him equal with his fellow rivals, Federer, and Nadal, on 20 Grand Slams each, the all-time record, and edges him a step closer to successfully completing the ‘calendar-year Grand Slam’, having won the Australian Open and the French Open already in 2021.
With the delay of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to Covid-19, Djokovic is anticipated to accomplish the ‘Golden Slam’ this year by winning all four majors and the Olympic singles gold medal. He is yet to reign victorious at the Olympics because of Andy Murray’s outstanding form at the previous two events in 2012 and 2016. History is on the line for Djokovic – the last player to complete the ‘Golden Slam’ was Steffi Graf in 1988.
Ultimately, in his bid for the ‘greatest male player of all time’ crown, Djokovic’s consistent triumphs at ‘big titles’, (which includes the Grand Slams, the Nitto ATP finals, Masters 1000 tournaments, and the Olympic singles gold medal) stands him in good stead having won the most (61) out of the ‘big three’. He has also spent the most weeks at World No. 1: a whopping 328 weeks.
Unlike Djokovic, Federer continues to struggle with injuries, having had two knee surgeries in 2020, and the inevitable ageing of the body. At 39 years old and very little match play in the past year and a half, tennis fans are beginning to doubt his ability to continue to compete at the highest level of the men’s game. Federer won his 20th Grand Slam at the Australian Open over three years ago, back in 2018, and is yet to win one since. Furthermore, prior to his Wimbledon return this month, Federer played a warm-up tournament in Halle, Germany, where he lost to the up-and-coming Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, 20, in the round of 16.
Despite this, the eight-time champion battled through the opening matches of Wimbledon beating the likes of Richard Gasquet and the 23rd seed Lorenzo Sonego, to reach the quarter-finals where he lost in straight sets to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz (6-3, 7-6, 6-0). However, his class, style, and compassion for the game, as well as his philanthropic efforts, will forever be remembered by the centre court crowd as he exits for possibly the last time; the fan favourite will be deemed as the ‘GOAT’ by many. Federer also stands in second place in the ‘most weeks as world number 1’ rankings (310 weeks) and continues to hold the record for most appearances in Grand Slam finals (31).
13 of Nadal’s 20 Grand Slams have come on the red clay at Roland Garros, and he holds the record for the most consecutive French Open wins from 2010 to 2014. His remarkable amount of success at this tournament has undoubtably crowned him the ‘king of clay’ and a strong contender in the discussion of the ‘greatest male player of all time’. Nadal is also the only one of the ‘big three’ to have won the Olympic singles gold medal. However, having lost at the French Open in May, a semi-final defeat to Djokovic, Nadal chose to withdraw from Wimbledon, and the upcoming Olympics, as a way of prolonging his career.
When Djokovic won on Sunday, both Federer and Nadal congratulated him and acknowledged the ‘special era’ of tennis they are all a part of. With age no longer on their side, the next generation may be hot on their heels, but for the time being, may this epic battle continue…
Image: Kulitat via Creative Commons