Tennis news - Novak Djokovic has sights on the ‘ultimate challenge’ of calendar Grand Slam
Novak Djokovic will attempt to repeat his achievement from three years ago by holding all four grand slam titles at once.
The tennis roadshow departs Australia once again wondering how Novak Djokovic can be stopped.
At 31 and 12 months on from elbow surgery, the Serbian appears more dominant than ever after allowing his great rival Rafael Nadal just eight games in a one-sided final at Melbourne Park.
For the third time in his career he has won three consecutive grand slam titles, the only man to achieve such a feat, and winning the French Open would see him repeat his success from 2016 by holding all four titles at once.
On that occasion, finally winning the title he craved more than any other, coupled with off-court problems, sent Djokovic into a tailspin, but it would be a big surprise if the same thing happened again.
So could he become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 and only the third man ever to win the elusive calendar Grand Slam?
“I’ve got to get Rod Laver in my team in order to achieve that,” said Djokovic. “He’s the only one that has managed to do the impossible challenge, probably the ultimate challenge of tennis.
“We’ll see. Obviously it’s just the beginning of the season. I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly.
“I have to work on my clay court game a bit more, more specifically than I have last season. I need to play better than I have last season in order to have a shot at the title.
“The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. Then you have (Dominic) Thiem and (Alexander) Zverev, Roger (Federer) is probably going to play. You have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody else.
“There is still a lot of time. I’m obviously first going to enjoy this victory and share it with my family and friends, then take it from there.”
Djokovic has already set his sights on Federer’s overall men’s record of 20 slam singles titles, and there is no doubt he has a voracious appetite to achieve history having been in the shadow of Federer and Nadal for so long.
Nadal will almost certainly be sharper and stronger physically in a few months and beating the Spaniard in Paris, where he has won 11 titles, is a challenge like no other.
But former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash believes Djokovic will head to the French capital as the man to beat.
The Eurosport analyst said: “I don’t think anybody can challenge Novak right now. The way he’s playing, he’s favourite for the French Open. I was thinking during the match how Rafa could even beat him on clay.”
The disappointment for Nadal was tempered by the knowledge he arrived in Melbourne having not played a match since the US Open last summer and with his pre-season disrupted by ankle surgery.
He played at a supremely high level for most of the fortnight, with his revamped serve a success, but was unable to find another gear to match Djokovic.
The Spaniard will return to the practice court before playing in tournaments in Acapulco at the end of February and then Indian Wells.
“I need matches, but I can’t go crazy to play matches,” said Nadal. “I have my age. I have my calendar. I have my priorities. My priority now is to come back home, have some rest.
“I played good tennis for a couple of weeks. Now is the time to be back, to have good physical work, keep working on the things that worked very well here. Step by step, working on the things that I need a little bit more.
“That’s the mobility, the defensive positions, the recovery from positions that are difficult to come back. That is something that I have naturally good, but I need to practise and need to be able to do it at that highest level.
“I know that the season is long. My first priority, more than winning titles or not, is to be happy. To be happy, I need to be healthy. If I am healthy, I am competitive, I have the chance to win tournaments.”