A Grand Slam – no Djoke

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By Linda Pearce

Early last year, sitting across from Rod Laver in the Melbourne hotel from where he can see the stadium bearing his famous name, the conversation – inevitably, like these things – turned to the Grand Slam. The real kind of calendar year.

The last man to achieve the feat, and the only player in history to do it twice, did he believe his exploits of 1962 and 1969 could or would be repeated?

It was possible, Laver said, with the caveat in these pre-pandemic days that seem like an eternity, that Rafael Nadal would have to retire first, because who could beat the clay-court phenomenon at Roland Garros?

Well, during the semi-finals at Roland Garros in June, we learned the answer to that one.

This is the same name that was chosen by Laver to not only overtake Nadal and Roger Federer on the all-time all-time all-time male winner list, where he is now the tied three-way leader at 20, and also the guy that Australian legend named. as the most likely to win the coveted Grand Slam in the next three to five years.

Novak Djokovic. On the eve of the US Open. on the cusp of something truly remarkable.

Or, in Laver’s words: “Djokovic has a game that doesn’t make mistakes. Yeah, the other guy is too good sometimes, but how many times can that be? ”

This year, in all tournaments: five times, the first three on clay. Still, it was the most recent loss, to Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics, which followed an upset semi-final by Alexander Zverev, who appears to have the greatest chance of making it. derail Djokovic’s campaign, just when the momentum seemed almost overwhelming.

Yet it was not just the result against Carreno Busta, but the collapse in the racket throwing and subsequent withdrawal from the mixed doubles qualifiers for the bronze medal with the hapless Nina Stojanovic that sparked such condemnation.

Djokovic, of course, had arrived with the goal of winning the fourth game of the so-called Golden Slam. How it all ended horribly – after ignoring his team’s advice in the first place by competing in the three Olympic tennis events in the debilitating humidity and heat of Japan.

Indeed, the fate of Djokovic added a little more intensity to Laver’s remarks last January. For someone with a game that doesn’t make mistakes, the Serbian is a man who has racked up many well-documented unforced errors of a different kind.

So how is he going to recover from this latest PR disaster – with no further match play – in the tournament that can either offer such a grand prize or snatch it away from him. As Laver also said during this interview, just one day can knock you out. You get sick. Injured, whatever. Just a bad day.

In the Australian’s case, sometime after his 1969 US Open final triumph over Arthur Ashe on the wet grass of Forest Hills, his friend John Newcombe perused the paper draw sheets he had collected from the four major tournaments to examine with Laver the occasions in which defeat threatened the most seriously. There were a few that were particularly perilous, and yet the best in Rockhampton found a way.

Next, a bit of perspective: To get an idea of ​​how difficult it is to reach the Grand Slam in singles, consider Don Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953) Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988 – plus gold Seoul Olympics) are the only other players who own one.

The year (2009) Federer prevailed at Roland Garros, for example, he had already lost the final at Melbourne Park, so was out of competition. The only time Nadal won the Australian Open, he suffered his only loss to the French in nine years. Only once before, in 2016, has Djokovic even won the first two stages of the coveted tennis quadrella.

Rewind a little further … Pete Sampras? Never won a French. André Agassi? One of eight men who own a career slam, but not among the six who don’t have the kind of schedule. Wilander claimed three of the four in 1988, as did Connors in 1974. Bjorn Borg? Only played in Australia once and were beaten in each of their four US Open finals. Which paints a clear statistical picture of the monumentality of this Djoker Grand Slam.

Wash should be at Flushing Meadows if this happens; his statistical legacy compromised by the 21 majors he missed after turning pro after Grand Slam No.1 in a weakened field in 1962. He was at full strength in 1969, which ushered in the Open era, sparking a 50th anniversary tour which has been celebrated so successfully around the world.

Laver never played a full program again, ending 1969 with nothing more to prove and a growing family as a priority. Which brings us back to that day at the Grand Hyatt in January 2020, when, reluctantly discussing his legacy, the still underrated 83-year-old is pushed to define it: “My record. Leave that aside. No matter what people think. Winning the Grand Slam was definitely a feather in my cap. ”

The one Novak Djokovic doesn’t have. At least not yet.

* Listen to the first service with Brett Phillips and Sam Groth preview of the US Open – 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. AEST Monday August 30 at 11:16 a.m. SEN Melbourne, 4:29 p.m. SEN SA / replayed at 8 p.m. AEST at 11:70 a.m. Sydney or listen live and catch up the SEN App.

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