Since Djokovic’s Australian open victory there has been a lot of media attention as to whether he can become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at the same time. The fact that Federer, and subsequently Nadal (who had a chance to do this at the Australian open 2011) have come so close but have never managed to complete this, illustrates what a mammoth achievement this would be, and would elevate the Serb’s status to certainly be a top contender for the greatest player of all time (GOAT).
While this would be a jaw dropping achievement (victory at the French Open would make him only the third man in history to hold all four grand slams at the same time), some have (perhaps begrudgingly) argued that this would be “just” a bronze medal achievement, and that there are two higher achievements possible in men’s professional tennis. One level up would be the calendar year Grand Slam that the great Rod Laver himself sees as being a notch up from four in a row spanning two years. Many people (including the Brit Murray) disagree, and see no superiority of winning four majors in a calendar year as opposed to four in a row spanning two years.
Regardless of this time period argument, there is little doubt that the highest possible achievement would be winning all four majors in a calendar year combined with winning the Olympic gold medal. This has never been accomplished in the men’s game and only the incredible Steffi Graff did this in the women’s (1988).
There is no doubt that the next man to achieve this will be staking a pretty formidable claim to be the greatest tennis player of all time, so what are Djokovic’s chances of completing the Golden Slam in 2012?
Barring an injury setback, you’d have to say that it is pretty unlikely that Djokovic will lose in any of the four remaining events this year to anyone except Nadal, Federer, or Murray. He did lose to a great performance by Isner in the Indian Wells masters a few weeks ago, but this was best of three sets, and the chance of someone outside the top four being able to play ‘lights out’ tennis for three out of five sets are extremely unlikely. Both physically and mentally, a five set match is a totally different proposition, and there’s also added pressure in the majors as well which favours the guys at the top of the rankings that have the experience to handle it.
So, what are the chances of the Serb loosing to Nadal, Federer, or Murray?
Since he became number 1 in the world last summer, Djokovic has won the last seven meeting against Nadal (including 3 slam finals), and it would seem this balance is unlikely to change anytime soon. While wrestling the Roland Garros title away from Rafa would not be an easy task, it’s tough to see how Rafa can find a way to hurt Novak with his massive topspin like he does other players. Even though they did not play at the French Open last year, Novak was still 2-0 over Rafa on clay, both matches being won in straight sets. Novak’s movement has gone to the next level, and he’s able to find perfect position on almost every shot, taking it early and putting pressure back on his opponent. The Australian open final victory (that was the longest final in grand slam history) for Novak over Rafa has got to give Novak the edge whenever these two great Champions play again over the coming months. However with Rafa’s 45-1 record at Roland Garros if the two of them do meet in the final it would have to be one of the most highly anticipated matches of all time.
Britain’s Murray has had a little more success again Djokovic in recent times, with a win in Dubai this year, but you feel over a best of five set match the Serb will come out on top. Murray did have chances against Djokovic at the Australian open this year (2 sets to 1 up), but while many commentators have said Murray does not have the game, I would argue it’s mental focus at certain points in a match that is what Murray is missing. Take yesterdays final of the Miami Master. Murray played some amazing tennis in the second set to get to a tie break, but then played a loose shot at the start of it. He can get away with this against lower ranked players but if he wants to climb to the summit of world tennis, surely his focus needs to be there 100% of the time. His appointment of Lendl does seem to have been a stroke of genius as there is no one more experienced in turning around a losing slam final record at the start of their career than the Czech legend. Lendl lost his first four slam finals but still amassed an impressive eight slam titles by the time he hung up his racket.
So what of the Swiss master Federer? Having beaten Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French open last year, and having match points against him at the US Open before losing, the biggest road block on the road to Novak achieving the Golden Slam is most likely the 16 Grand Slam title holder. Federer has indeed had a superb last 6 months, but while he has won many titles, it shouldn’t be overlooked that these have all been best of three set tournaments, and he has hardly ever had to face any of the other top 4 players in the world during these events. Also, Djokovic may not even have to play Federer as if the Swiss master is drawn in Nadal’s half of the draw, it’s difficult to see how Federer will find a way past Rafa in a best of five sets match. Federer’s shown he can get the better of Nadal in a best of three sets match, but a best of five does not favour the 30 year old physically, and the last time he beat Nadal in such a match was the Wimbledon 2008 final (he’s lost to him in five slam matches since). Because of this issue with longer matches, perhaps the biggest danger for Novak’s golden slam goal will be the Olympics in which all matches will be best of three not five sets. Federer himself will also be extra motivated to get the Olympic Gold medal as it is the only major individual prize that has eluded him.
Djokovic certainly has as good a chance as anyone in the open era of achieve the Golden slam, with perhaps the biggest obstacle being if he comes up against Federer in a best of 3 sets Olympic match.
After being named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year 2011 at the February 2012 awards, Djokovic was asked about his chances of achieving the Golden slam:
“I think everything is possible,” said Djokovic
If he can achieve it, it will no doubt be one of the greatest sporting stories of all time, and be brilliant for the game of tennis. Best of luck Novak.