The only man to hold all four Grand Slam titles in a row till Sunday was Rod Laver. Now, Laver is spoken of in near mystical terms by those who saw him play. Talk to Ramanathan Krishnan, SP Misra or Jaidip Mukherjea and they speak of a miniature whirlwind on court whose skill was so unparalleled that it was almost impossible to nail him down no matter how creative your gameplan.
After Laver’s feat in 1969, Novak Djokovic is the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles together. That means that since his loss in the French Open final last year, the man has not lost a single match when frolicking on the four biggest stages that define tennis. That’s 28 Grand Slam matches spread over the span of a year.
That Slams offer the highest prize money, maximum points and are the prized titles that every tennis player covets. That in turn implies that players may be off their game anywhere else but when they come to the Slams, they make sure they are near their peak. So, this man has for a year spurned the best efforts of the best players to tame him. If the numbers themselves don’t make it obvious, let’s put it in plainspeak: Djokovic is playing at a level where the best in the world have been unable to nail him down for over a year!
For a moment sit back and think of all the tennis greats that flit through your mind. Even if you are not a rabid follower of tennis and just have a passing interest in the game the names of Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Sampras, Agassi and Federer are bound to register. Each of them has been hailed as a great. Each took the game to a different level. Now, to put Djokovic’s stellar achievement in context, none of these greats held all four Slam titles together. That does make the feat appear as mind boggling as it really is. Doesn’t it? To pare it down further, none of these giants of the game displayed the kind of consistency that Djokovic has over the last 12 months.
At the age of 29, Djokovic has over 100 million dollars in prize money already. So this is not a fellow who needs to keep playing for he needs to make a living. He also has 12 Slam singles titles. Only three players in the history of the game hold more (Federer 17, Nadal 14, and Sampras 14). With the kind of commitment and form that he has been displaying, it wouldn’t be imprudent to suggest that he is set to chase down Federer’s 17 and if he stays injury free, fans can expect him to go beyond.
Now, longevity is a product of commitment. It’s the cream that floats to the top only after the churn of consistent hard training. In that department Djokovic is ahead of his peers. The man is said to tap the best of brains and technology to stay ahead of the curve. Whether it was about revamping his whole dietary regime to go gluten free – and in the process unleashing a world-wide food phenomenon — or the unique sleeping pod that he is said to use which ensures a higher rate of recovery, its plain that this is a man who will pull out all the stops in his quest for perfection.
No more the Joker
In the midst of all this Djokovic is also said to be a great guy. His on-court funny antics of the past may have toned down a bit now – that mimicry and fooling around earned him the title of ‘the joker’ – but Djokovic has earned millions of fans through his acts of kindness and consideration. Remember that viral video where he asked the ball kid to come and share the umbrella with him as it started drizzling? The gregarious personality is buttressed by an incredible hunger. The kind which one presumes is nurtured only in a war-torn country where sport becomes the passport to escape local drudgery. So, here’s a guy who knows how to have fun, work terribly hard and, to top it, keeps exploring the limits of his body through cutting edge science.
Djokovic is not the languid, free-hitting kind of player that reflects a natural gift. His ease of stroke making comes from hard work. As such, his success has been built of a foundation of sweat. The way he is going, there doesn’t seem to be any stopping him. Barring injury, this man is well on the way to be the greatest athlete the game has ever seen.