After again failing to complete his career grand slam in Paris, Novak Djokovic’s season can hind on the next week in SW19.
Ever since Novak Djokovic’s outstanding 2011 season his major goal has been winning Roland Garros. The missing link in his grand slam record. An incredible all-rounder, one of the highlights of Djokovic’s career is how complete it is. Of the nine 1,000 events, the Serb has won eight, six of which he’s won multiple times, with only Cincinnati missing, where he’s made the final four times. To put things into context, Nadal and Federer have two missing each. Adding in the End of Year Tour Finals, Djokovic has won 12 of the 14 tournaments which give the most rankings points. Four clay 1000 titles, in this era, with Rafael Nadal, is astonishing in itself, and is even more impressive given all four of those were won against the Spaniard in finals.
For that reason, that the French Open crown is still not there, is of great pain to Djokovic. In at least three of the last four years, Djokovic has gone into the tournament as favourite, with recent success over Nadal and often the number one ranking alongside his name. 2013 was perhaps the most painful. An unfortunate draw as a result of Nadal’s lower ranking (he’d been out for several months through injury) meant they met in the semi finals, with Nadal edging a four and a half hour epic 9-7 in the fifth set. With the biggest game of the season lost in early June, Djokovic admitted it partially derailed his season and it took until he lost his number 1 ranking in the Autumn for him to really hit his mojo again.
For Djokovic, at this stage of the season, that can’t afford to happen again, and Wimbledon creates the perfect opportunity for Djokovic to cement a legacy as the world’s best grass courter, the most well rounded player of his generation and the world’s best player at this moment in time. His record at Wimbledon is so far mixed. An early semi final lead in 2007 as a 20 year old promised lots but his performances at the all England club where underwhelming until his breakout year in 2011. Back then it looked like he could be the next dominator of the grass courts but it has so far failed to come to fruition and he was poor in the 2013 final.
Since the decline of Roger Federer and rise of Djokovic and Andy Murray, there hasn’t been a standout grass player in the mens game. The last four Wimbledon’s have gone to each of the traditional big four. With it arguably being Nadal’s weakest surface, Andy Murray is a major candidate for the title, Roger Federer has perhaps his best chance of reviving past glories and an outsider such as Grigor Dimitrov or Milos Raonic could spring a surprise. But none of them perhaps have as big a chance as Djokovic. While grass is far from his strongest surface, he’s a more than capable player and better than at least all bar one of the other candidates.
The Wimbledon Championships are even more important for Djokovic given the now lingering doubts about whether he is the same player that took the tour by storm in 2011. Five masters wins in his last six tournaments, with a year end championship in between show his skill level is still there, but it’s worrying that it hasn’t been transferred into grand slam wins. The Serb hasn’t won any of the last five grand slams and sine the 2012 Australian Open epic with Nadal, his final record in slams is played six won one.
One of the reasons he brought in Boris Becker as coach was to help improve the mental side of his game, but it’s worth remembering that the Djokovic circa 2011/2012 was arguably the strongest mentally on the tour. Even Nadal would struggle to win the five seters and it was uncanny how many times an epic would end with Djokovic victories. As of yet it hasn’t brought additional success and Djokovic and Wimbledon will be a serious test of the supposed benefits Becker is bringing to his game. It’s not easy for Djokovic, with the crowd rarely on his side in the epic games, and Wimbledon is particularly tough with the possibility of facing the likes of Murray and Federer – crowd favourites in South London – or even the likes of the young revelation Nick Kyrigos.
But Djokovic has the game to win Wimbledon and argue his case to be the world’s best grass courter and with it would probably the crown of world’s best player.