I'm currently the best: Novak

He's leaving the 'greatest' debate to others but says it's hard to compare across eras

A happy Novak Djokovic after winning Wimbledon on Sunday for a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title. He will be just the third man to complete the calendar Grand Slam if he wins the US Open in September.
A happy Novak Djokovic after winning Wimbledon on Sunday for a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title. He will be just the third man to complete the calendar Grand Slam if he wins the US Open in September.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Novak Djokovic said on Sunday that he considers himself the "best player" after winning a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title but refuses to anoint himself as the "greatest of all time".

The 34-year-old went to 20 majors alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal courtesy of a sixth Wimbledon title secured by a 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Italy's Matteo Berrettini.

If he wins a fourth US Open in September, he will become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the calendar Grand Slam and just the third ever.

"I consider myself best and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn't be talking confidently about winning Slams and making history," said Djokovic.

"But whether I'm the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.

"I said before that it's very difficult to compare the eras of tennis. We have different racquets, technology, balls, courts. It's just completely different conditions that we're playing in, so it's very hard to compare from 50 years ago to today.

"However, I am extremely honoured to definitely be part of the conversation."

Despite his caution, Djokovic knows he has time and momentum on his side. At 34, he is a year younger than Nadal and has the best part of six years on Federer, who turns 40 in four weeks.

Nadal skipped Wimbledon after losing to Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals last month, while Federer made a quarter-final exit at the All England Club.

Djokovic has clinched eight of his 20 Slams after he turned 30. He has also won seven of the last eight finals he has contested, his only defeat in that span coming against Nadal at the French Open last year.

Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion and now part of Djokovic's coaching team, insists there is "no debate" over who is the greatest.

"For me Novak is the best ever. He's writing history. He's going to do it in the US Open... win all four in one year. Then I think the story's over," he said.

Seven-time Slam winner John McEnroe was even more bold in his prediction. The 62-year-old American said Djokovic's ability to play his best tennis under pressure can help him win at least five more Slams.

"He's put himself so far out in front of everyone in terms of his ability to embrace what he's doing - in terms of creating history - and being able to execute under a lot of stress," McEnroe noted.

"You're trying to break the all-time records - there's a lot of pressure. He's able to play his best tennis at this point. You expect that to go on for another couple of years, unless someone steps up and realises how great they are."

One potential gap from Djokovic's resume though could be an Olympic gold medal, after he cooled on his commitment to participate at the Tokyo Games on Sunday after his Wimbledon triumph.

He said: "I'll have to think about it. As I said, my plan was always to go but right now I'm a little bit divided. It's kind of 50/50 because of what I heard in the last couple of days."

The Serb had always insisted he would think twice if the Covid-19 protocols in Japan became too strict and if fans were banned. Two days ago, it was announced that even domestic fans will be barred from all venues. Foreign visitors had already been barred as had family members of visiting athletes.

"That was really disappointing to hear. I also hear that there's going to be a lot of restrictions within the Village," said Djokovic, who claimed the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"Possibly you would not be able to see other athletes perform live.

"I can't even have my stringer that is a very important part of my team. I'm limited with the amount of people I can take in my team as well."

Nadal, who won gold in 2008, Serena Williams and Dominic Thiem have already said they will skip the Olympics, while 2012 singles runner-up Federer has remarked he remains in two minds.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


THE BIG THREE

Novak Djokovic, 34, Serbia

Career titles 84

Grand Slam titles 20

(9 Australian Open, 2 French Open, 6 Wimbledon, 3 US Open

ATP Masters 1000 titles 36

ATP Finals titles 5

Weeks as world No. 1 329

Prize money earned

US$151,876,636 (S$205,428,338)


Rafael Nadal, 35, Spain

Career titles 88

Grand Slam titles 20 (1-13-2-4)

ATP Masters 1000 titles 36

ATP Finals titles 0 (twice finalist)

Weeks as world No. 1 209

Prize money earned US$124,937,195


Roger Federer, 39, Switzerland

Career titles 103

Grand Slam titles 20 (6-1-8-5)

ATP Masters 1000 titles 28

ATP Finals titles 6

Weeks as world No. 1 310

Prize money earned

US$130,594,339

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2021, with the headline 'I'm currently the best: Novak'. Subscribe