Another Wimbledon, another tour de force from Novak Djokovic. The tournament ending with him holding the pineapple-adorned trophy aloft on the balcony feels as much part of Wimbledon as strawberries and cream at this point.
Djokovic proved it again this year, overcoming a fine Nick Kyrgios performance in the final to win a fourth successive title at the All-England Club and seventh overall.
In many ways, Kyrgios provided the perfect prism through which to view Djokovic’s genius. He is a rarity in that he is someone who has created self-doubt in Djokovic before. With his serve and talent for antagonism also thrown into the mix, there was a special anticipation for this particular final.
However, as usual, no matter how we felt going into the match, we emerge from it with a fresh appreciation for Novak Djokovic.
You look through the greats of the game and, among all the many incredible strengths they have, there is always a defining weakness too.
Pete Sampras couldn’t do it on clay. He had everything else anyone could ever dream of, but that one weakness meant he retired without the career Grand Slam – a fact that still surprises many.
John McEnroe had a bit of an issue with his temperament. Bjorn Borg, his great rival, was perhaps the opposite, and he seemed to lack the passion that the other greats had.
Jimmy Connors had everything except a top-spin forehand, and that cost him on clay. Like Sampras, he was never able to crack that particular nut.
Even as we move into the modern era, Roger Federer was a touch player in a power era, while Rafael Nadal’s body struggles to keep up with his brilliant tennis.
Then you reach Novak Djokovic on the list of greats - and attempting to find a meaningful weakness in his game becomes, frankly, an exercise in madness.
Djokovic is often defined by his return. ‘Greatest returner the game has ever seen,’ they say, and they are right. But he is far from only that.
His technique, for starters, is immaculate. Pick up any textbook you like and not only will Novak Djokovic’s technique be comparatively faultless, it probably slightly improves on much of it.
Many look at Djokovic’s sheer consistency and the fact he has so few unforced errors and put it down to his mental strength, but it’s actually borne of that technique. He can trust it, it’s repeatable, it’s reliable. In fact, he has taken it to a level that is absolutely unprecedented.
Forehand side? Perfect. Backhand wing? Faultless. Nick Kyrgios is arguably the greatest server that men’s tennis has seen. He has the power, accuracy and consistency to poke at whatever weaknesses his opponent may have. Against Djokovic, he could find none. A brilliant server, serving brilliantly, and it was still not enough to overpower the Djokovic technique.
It’s not like his game is restricted to that technique from the baseline either. He has the drop shot, the slice, cross-court, down the line, the depth control.
Mentally he is immaculate too. Again, that is something that Kyrgios always tests in opponents. Look, for example, at how Kyrgios’ sheer force of personality broke down Stefanos Tsitsipas. Perhaps the Australian was not at the same level of ‘antics’ against Djokovic as he was against Tsitsipas, but it was still significant. It didn’t make a dent either.
We shouldn’t just consider Djokovic’s mental strength here either. He is also incredibly intelligent in terms of his tennis. He anticipates and problem-solves just as well as Rafael Nadal does, although he does not get the same credit.
Not only does Djokovic have all of that, but he is also capable of physical feats no one else is. He is as quick as anyone in the court, he is more flexible than anyone, and he is fitter than most.
He can win on hardcourts, he can win on clay, he can win on grass. Carve a court into a sheet of ice and he’d win on that as well.
There is simply no weakness in his game at all. It is as if someone has meticulously designed tennis perfection and decided to name it Novak Djokovic.
It all makes you sometimes wonder why the GOAT race has not already been declared at times, although usually the arguments will come down to a belief from many that what you do is only one part of it, and how you do it is just as important.
Those people will tend to push a belief that Novak Djokovic lacks the charisma of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. More specifically, may be, that his tennis lacks the charisma.
To be clear, that is not a belief with which we agree, but whether we agree with it or not you do have to acknowledge the perception. Yes, his tennis does lack the grace of Federer’s or the ferocity of Nadal’s, but so does everyone else’s, so it cannot be a criticism. Djokovic’s tennis has another kind of personality, another kind of expression. He projects authority, perfection, control, and he does it in droves. His game is full of personality.
But, ultimately, that criticism is purely subjective. Even if you are of that belief – even if you believe to your bones that Djokovic’s personality and tennis just isn’t for you or just isn’t to your taste, or that you simply find someone else’s particular flavour of charisma more to your personal taste… even if all of that is true, do you know the one thing that you don’t need to win tennis tournaments? Popularity.
For Novak Djokovic, it doesn’t matter who he is playing, It doesn’t matter what challenges his opponents bring. It doesn’t matter if the crowd are with him or against him. Often times, as we saw in the 2019 Australian Open, it doesn’t matter if he is injured or not. None of it matters, and Djokovic has proven that to the point where even his toughest detractors can no longer find reasonable cause for dismissal.
The GOAT debate will always endure, and we encourage it to. Everyone has the right to define what greatness means to themselves. We can all pick our own inspiration.
Objectively, though, Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player the game has ever seen. He proves it against every opponent, when facing every type of player, on every surface, in every corner of the world.
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