COMMENT: It’s hard to deny Novak Djokovic is the greatest when he keeps on beating our greats

After Novak Djokovic produced a stunning performance to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open, it’s harder than ever to deny him his due.

There is a school of thought presented by American civil rights activist Dorothy Height that goes a little something like this: Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach their goals.

By every measure of that definition, Novak Djokovic achieved greatness on Friday night when he overcame Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

Of course, Djokovic’s greatness was already cemented well before that. It should have been, at least, but it would be remiss to ignore the axiomatic and suggest there are not those among the tennis media and further who consider Djokovic the poor relation in the ‘Big Three.’

Let’s get one thing straight here before we delve any deeper. Beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros when he is not at his best is one thing. It can happen. Robin Soderling, by no measure, is a tennis great and he has done it. But to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros at his best… well that’s something else entirely.

And that is a very important distinction to make. In fact, when analysing the extraordinary events that we saw on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Friday night, it is the important thing.

This was not a Nadal who is fading, short of form, or struggling with an injury. I mean, to be fair, one look at his Roland Garros record tells you he’s just about unbeatable when he is afflicted with any of those anyway.

No, the Nadal that Djokovic overcame was one who had lost one set in his last 39 at the French Open, and who former world number one Mats Wilander had, just 48 hours earlier, described as ‘unbeatable’.

Entering into the match, all the talk was that Novak Djokovic was certainly capable of winning the match, although he’d likely need Nadal to drop a few percent in terms of his level, and even then the Serbian would still probably be an outsider to progress into the final.

As it happened, Nadal brought his very best tennis for much of the match. As it turned out, Djokovic’s best was just better than his.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal Roland Garros

That is not a slight on Nadal either. How could anyone possibly even start to dismiss anything about what he has achieved? Add this loss into his record, and another 50 more for that matter, and he will still be the greatest French Open champion of all time by a frankly obscene distance.

But Nadal has had more than anyone’s fair share of great nights at Roland Garros and, we dare say, he will still have more to come. This was a night that belonged to Novak Djokovic, though, and it’s one he has earned.

Djokovic was already the only active player to beat Nadal at the French Open, and now he has done it twice. He is the only player to win a French Open semi-final against Nadal. He may go on and become the only man in the Open Era to win every major multiple times, although Stefanos Tsitsipas is sure to have something to say about that. It may even put him to within striking distance at Wimbledon to join Roger Federer and Nadal on 20 majors.

No man has won more Masters titles than Djokovic, no man has been the year-end world number one more times than Djokovic, and no one has spent more time at world number one than the Serbian.

Novak Djokovic celebrates French Open

He has beaten Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros – twice. He has beaten Roger Federer at Wimbledon three times, which is more times than Federer has beaten him there. Meanwhile, Federer and Nadal between them have beaten Djokovic just once in ‘his’ stronghold Slam of the Australian Open.

If we consider these players to be great, and we do – in fact it is about the only thing tennis fans agree on these days – then what do we consider the player who beats them to be?

Nadal and Federer have strong cases to be considered the greatest, and no one should ever deny that. The foundations of those arguments are subjective, which is fine. However, the numbers belong to Djokovic. The achievements belong to Djokovic.

And ultimately, the key deciding factor may be a matter of self-fulfilment, because while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal appear happy to be great, Novak Djokovic has the look of a man who will accept nothing less than being the greatest.

Please follow Tennisbuzz on Twitter and Instagram, and you can like us on Facebook by clicking here.

For more exclusive content from Tennisbuzz, including news, features, trivia, promotions and more, please be sure to sign up for our newsletter below or via our home page.

Why not test your tennis knowledge by tackling one of our fiendish quizzes too?

Other News

‘I am happy’ – Daniil Medvedev continues clay court improvement

Daniil Medvedev continued his impeccable start at Roland Garros by beating the impressive Laslo Djere in round two.Medvedev has never made any secret of...

Leolia Jeanjean says she ‘doesn’t know what’s happening’ after dream Roland Garros run

Leolia Jeanjean seemed to be the most confused person at Roland Garros after she recorded a superb win over eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.The 26-year-old...

Andy Murray takes swipe at Naomi Osaka, telling her: ‘Wimbledon will never be an exhibition!’

Andy Murray has appeared to take a swipe at Naomi Osaka and anyone else who thinks Wimbledon will just be 'an exhibition' this year.The...

Rafael Nadal confident he can manage injury after winning 300th Grand Slam match

Rafael Nadal secured his 300th win at a Grand Slam at Roland Garros on Wednesday before saying he was feeling in control of his...

‘I’ll never be at Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic level,’ admits Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev came through a serious Roland Garros scare before admitting his performance was so bad he was already planning his holiday.Zverev faced Sebastian...

Novak Djokovic ‘pleased’ with his ball-striking in tough Roland Garros conditions

Novak Djokovic described himself as 'pleased' with the way he is playing right now after another fine showing at the French Open.The defending champion...

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don't miss a thing from Tennisbuzz - get all the latest tennis news, exclusive content and competitions, and tennis trivia teasers all delivered to your inbox.

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here