Novak Djokovic has equalled a 22-year Pete Sampras record, and it is surely the most fitting way to cement his greatness.
Wherever Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer are concerned, regular record-breaking is an inevitability.
In fact, in the five weeks since we launched TennisBuzz, we have reported on a record Roland Garros title, a record-equalling Grand Slam title, a new record for most consecutive weeks spent in the top ten and, now, a record equalling number of year-end world number ones and the oldest ever year-end world number one.
Frankly, it’s exhausting.
Ultimately, when it comes to the big three, the value of records are inextricably intertwined with their love of the player.
Nadal and Federer fans will probably say greatness is all about the Grand Slam count. If another player surpasses it, they will pick another argument that suits their belief that their man is the man.
And, you know what? That’s absolutely fine. We are also never going to agree on the criteria for greatness, and that is fine too. Even if one player collected every single record, the arguments would persist.
That, of course is shaped by a common passion and a basic love of tennis. It’s shaped, sometimes subconsciously, by our earliest memories and first tennis idols. That was, after all, our first reference point for greatness.
What we are probably all guilty of sometimes, though, is spending so long arguing about the players that we forget about the people.
Before they were in a position to chase these records and carve themselves a slice of history, they were just as we are now: tennis fans with a huge passion, one which we share.
So while not all records are equal for us, nor are they for the player, and this one is without doubt an immensely special one for Djokovic, not because of what he has done because of who he has emulated.
“I was 6 years old and I saw Pete Sampras play that Wimbledon final,” Djokovic said in the book Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited.
“The first image I have of professional tennis was Pete’s victory in that final against Courier in 1993. I was impressed with his skills and composure and watching him play. On the most sacred court in tennis, I fell in love with it all.
“I really feel like that day when I saw Sampras, he gave me great power. It was as if he had received information about it. It is something that cannot be explained.
“It is a very deep feeling. But, for me, Pete was the reference. I was making my career in tennis and when I was seven years old, a year after Pete’s final against Courier, I started imitating the great players and hitting the best shots of each one of them.
“But Pete, although our styles are very different, I still see him as my idol. And what impressed me the most about seeing him at that Wimbledon final and also later was the ability to remain calm in the decisive moments, to be mentally stronger when it matters most.”
What Djokovic has achieved here is objectively incredible. He has done something Rafael Nadal has not been able to do yet, something Roger Federer has not been able to do. Name any great you want, except Sampras, and he has not been able to achieve what Djokovic has here.
However, it’s also extra special because it is extra special to him. A young tennis-loving child had a dream to emulate his hero, and we have all got to watch him do it. If that isn’t special, if that is not the very essence of the magic of sport and something to which we can all relate, I don’t know what is.
For Djokovic, there is no greater tribute to the man who ‘made him fall in love with tennis.’ For Pete Sampras, an unquestioned great of our game, there may be no greater legacy to have left the game than Novak Djokovic.
There are fans of other players who won’t like it. There are fans of other players who will seek to diminish the achievement. There always will be.
But let’s not forget – or overlook, deliberately or otherwise – that in an era when records tumble with almost desensitising, Novak Djokovic has achieved something that no one else has been able to do this century.
That may not be the greatest, but it is greatness, and it should be acknowledged as such.
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