Novak Djokovic has history in his sights – again.
The world No 1 came from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the French Open and claim his 19th Grand Slam title, putting him one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all-time standings.
With Wimbledon and the US Open still to come this year, Djokovic has a chance to move ahead of his two great rivals in the standings.
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If he were to win both remaining Grand Slams in 2021 he would be only the second man in the Open era (after Rod Laver in 1969) to win the calendar slam. There’s also the opportunity to win Olympic gold in Tokyo, which, along with Wimbledon and the US Open, could secure Djokovic the “Golden Slam” – a feat only Steffi Graf has achieved in a single year (1988).
Such would be the scale of the accomplishment that Djokovic’s coaches Marian Vajda and Goran Ivanisevic have joked that they would quit if he managed to achieve it.
But with the French Open now ticked off, it is a possibility.
“Roland Garros is the toughest Grand Slam in history,” said Vajda after Djokovic clinched his second title in Paris.
“Always tough because it's clay and it's tiring. It's different game. You have to adjust to the clay basically. You have to come through a lot of, lot of tough times.
“I was worried a little bit more about clay court, because for period of long time, in past 10 years, let's say, he had great results, and he could have done much more at the French Open, but just couldn't make it… To get back on clay and then to win Grand Slam was tougher and tougher year by year.”
Djokovic’s only previous win in Paris was in 2016 and he had only reached the final once since then. But with two Grand Slams already won this year, he will start as the firm favourite in London and New York. He has won the last two editions of Wimbledon – last year wasn’t played due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and has won three times at the US Open.
However, the last time he had the chance to go for the Golden Slam in 2016 it ended in disappointment as he was beaten in the third round at Wimbledon, first round at the Olympics and final of the US Open.
“Everything is possible,” he said after winning the French Open.
“And I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam. But, you know, I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third-round loss in Wimbledon.
“This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal because you go from really two completely different surfaces, trying to make that transition as smooth as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible. So obviously I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days' time.
“I don't have an issue to say that I'm going for the title in Wimbledon. Of course, I am. I was really happy to know that we are going to play Wimbledon this year, considering we haven't played it last year. I've had a great success in the last couple of Wimbledon seasons that were played.
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“I won in '18 and '19 there. Hopefully I can keep that run going. I like the grass. Over the years I think I improved on grass, I adjusted my game. Hopefully I can use this confidence that I have right now into Wimbledon, as well. Then let's take it from there.”
Whether he wins the Golden Slam or not, Djokovic looks more likely than ever to overtake Federer and Nadal atop the all-time standings. The 34-year-old has been playing catch-up throughout his career, with Federer having already won 12 Slams when Djokovic won his first in 2008 and Nadal already having three to his name. However, Djokovic says he never saw it as “mission impossible” to catch them both.
“I'm not there, but it's one less. But they are still playing. Obviously they're playing great, especially Rafa with his level.
“We all have still opportunities at Wimbledon, all the other Slams. You have four Slams a year, so we're all competing for this amazing achievement and amazing trophies. I'll keep on going. I'll keep on chasing. At the same time I'll keep on paving my own path, which is my own authentic path. We all three of us have our own journeys, and that's it.”
Vajda says the Golden Slam is still “far away” but believes Djokovic is well “set up” for the second half of the season.
“Obviously his goal and our goal is to win the Olympics and then win the Grand Slam. That would be the absolutely top of this year. But it's still far away from us.
“We have to still focus on the next one. But overall he's set up for this year. His priority is really set up like Wimbledon, Olympics, and US Open. I think that says all. His schedule is according that we practice and prepare for those tournaments.”
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