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By Raymond Lee | Monday, September 18, 2023


Novak Djokovic captured his 24th Grand Slam crown at the US Open this month. Tennis historian Raymond Lee asserts the Serbian superstar can win 30 Slams.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

To quote the well-known American author Mark Twain, “Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated!”

Novak Djokovic could share Twain’s sentiments after capturing his fourth US Open championship this month.

More: Djokovic Captures 24th Grand Slam Title

It seemed everyone was ready to anoint Carlos Alcaraz as the new King of Tennis after he defeated Djokovic at Wimbledon this year. Some were hinting that perhaps Alcaraz at his best was better than Djokovic at his best.

You almost got the impression many thought Djokovic will soon be old news and the new shiny toy to watch is Carlos Alcaraz. That may be true someday but as of 2023 it’s not reality.

Amazingly, Novak Djokovic has won three majors in a year for the fourth time!

Djokovic, in winning three Grand Slam titles in a single season, holds the men’s record for most times winning at least three majors in a year. He trails only Margaret Court, who did it five times in singles including her Grand Slam season in 1970. If you count mixed doubles and doubles, Court won three majors in a year 10 times!

Roger Federer won three majors in a year three times. Rafael Nadal did it once back in 2010 when he won the final three majors. Rod Laver of course did it twice in his Grand Slam years of 1962 and 1969. A number of others like Jimmy Connors, Don Budge, Fred Perry, Tony Trabert and Lew Hoad also won three majors in a year.

Among the women aside from Court, Helen Wills won three majors in a year twice. Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly did it once in her Grand Slam year of 1953. Billie Jean King did it once. Martina Navratilova did it twice. Steffi Graf did it four times. Martina Hingis once. Monica Seles did it twice. And last but not least Serena Williams did it twice.

So as of now in September of 2023, Djokovic is the champion of 3 majors and also is the defending World Tour Finals Champion. It may not be Djokovic’s best year or even in his top few years but it’s a year virtually any player would dream of!

Djokovic has now won 24 majors in 72 attempts and has been in the finals of 36 majors. He has won an amazing one third of all the majors he has played and has been in the finals of majors 50% of the time he has competed.

Since 2011 when Djokovic took over as basically the dominant player in tennis with a pause in 2017 due to a wrist injury, he has won 23 majors in 48 appearances with 10 finals appearances in majors! The man has won 48.9% of his majors since then.

So generally speaking you would have Djokovic in the finals of any major against another member of the big four like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. In Novak Djokovic’s 36 final appearances in majors, 21 of them has been against Nadal, Federer and Murray! Of course Djokovic has faced the other members of the Big 4 in majors other than finals.

The point I’m making here is that the other members of the Big Four are exceptional players and to face them regularly in majors makes it all the more difficult to win majors during Djokovic’s career.

Djokovic tied the World Class Professional Tennis Record of total tennis singles majors of the inimitable Margaret Court who won her last major in 1973, 50 years ago at the US Open in Forest Hills in those bygone days.

It’s interesting to me how some experts seem to downgrade Margaret Court’s fantastic record with reasons like these:

1. “Court won many of her majors in the Pre-Open Era” Well this reason is only applicable in Men’s Tennis and the excuse that Court’s majors won prior to the Open are not as prestigious as during the Open Era is not valid.

This reason this is definitely not valid because only the Male Players had a Profession Tour prior to 1968 so the Male Pros did not play in the majors, only the amateurs did.

The Women however did NOT HAVE A PROFESSIONAL TOUR until the early 1970s so Court also was able to play the best in the world at any tome in her career. Court always played the best players or rather the best players could always enter the majors that Court played.

Incidentally if we just use early 1968 as a start date which is the start of the Open Era, Court won 11 majors in 21 attempts including a Grand Slam in 1970. Court won six straight majors from 1969 to 1971! The dominance of Court was there prior to the Open Era AND during the Open Era.

2. “Court won many of her majors at the Australian Open which had weak fields” Well that argument to me doesn’t hold much water either. Yes the fields weren’t as strong as they could possibly be but for example in 1960 it had top players like Maria Bueno, Christine Truman, Jan Lehane. Over the years at the Australian, Court faced and defeated top players like Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King, Maria Bueno, Francoise Durr, Carole Graebner, Rosie Casals, Lesley Turner, Kerry Melville among others.

Many of them Hall of Famers. You could also argue that many did not want to play the Australian because it was essentially Court’s home court. But I will give them this, perhaps she may have won fewer Australians if the field was as strong as the US Open or US Nationals as it was call prior to 1968.

What people also fail to consider is the fact that Court retired for a year when she got married to Barry Court and also left the game due to pregnancy. It also took a while for her to get back into shape. It’s not unreasonable to think that Court would have won four to six more majors if she did not leave tennis during that period.

Court also left the game in 1974 because she was pregnant again. The year before in 1973 she again won three majors including the 1973 US Open. She was easily the dominant player in the game. If she did not take off she may have won more majors.

Of course, all of this is conjecture, but it is also conjecture to assume Court would not have won 11 Australian Championships if there were stronger fields. My point is that it evens out and perhaps Court would have won more majors if not for the years off due to pregnancy and early temporary retirement in the late 1960s.

Court won around 200 tournaments in her career with an over 91% lifetime winning percentage with 62 total majors won if you include doubles and mixed doubles.

Djokovic still looks to be in top shape. Whether he is in the shape he was in 2011 is debatable. No player ever defeats Father Time although Djokovic is doing a good job so far of holding him off.

My prediction: Novak Djokovic, if he stays healthy, has a chance to reach the astounding number of 30 majors!

Several reasons support Djokovic hitting the Big 30:

1. Novak Djokovic is clearly the world's best player right now and committed to continuing to improve.

2. Historically, Novak wins Grand Slam titles in bunches. As noted, he's won three or more majors in a season four different times.

3. The next Grand Slam is the Australian Open where 10-time champion Djokovic has dominated. Wouldn't it be fitting to see the Serbian superstar win his 25th Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park, site of so many magical major runs he's given us? Remember, Djokovic has won the last four Australian Opens he's contested and shows no signs of slowing down.

4. Novak Djokovic is the most complete player in the sport, arguably the most complete player ever, and the next most complete player is Carlos Alcaraz, who has yet to prove he can sustain the remarkable longevity and success of the 24-time Grand Slam champion. Novak has repeatedly said he remains hungry and highly motivated to win majors, so who is going to stop him?

It’s a pity Djokovic missed several majors due to the restrictions due to his vaccination status.

Otherwise, he probably would be even closer to the seemingly unattainable 30 majors.

Now that Djokovic has tied Margaret Court and seems in a great position to surpass her, I do find it interesting that just after Pete Sampras retired with a majors count of 14, that many seemed to think was going to last for decades! Thing is they were looking at Roy Emerson’s amateur record and didn’t take into consideration how the Pro/Amateur divide before 1968 affected the history of tennis! That was off by a lot.

Federer zoomed past Sampras a few years later, then Nadal shortly afterward and then Djokovic. But as I have written in the past, Sampras’ greatest feat, I believe, is that he finished No. 1 in the world for an astounding six straight years. Sampras’ greatness cannot be underestimated. Sampras is arguably the best fast court player ever.

The question people should have asked is why a great player like Laver won the Grand Slam in 1962 and had a big gap of six years before he won another major championship. Laver also had a gap of seven years before he won another Grand Slam! Clearly the reason is that Laver was not able to play the majors and if you don’t play major tournaments, you cannot win them.

The Pro/Amateur division prior to the Open Era affected tennis history greatly. There definitely would have been different champions in the Men’s Majors if there was always Open Tennis for men.

Winning a Grand Slam shows how dominant Laver was. Now admittedly Laver may not have won the 1962 Grand Slam if all the top players competed, but I also believe that Laver’s talent would have come to the forefront earlier if he was playing in an era of Open Tennis from the beginning of his career.

Laver was unable to play the majors for five of his peak years. During those years he was the dominant player in the professional ranks winning a massive number of top tournaments. It’s very probable that he would have won many more majors during that time Laver wasn’t allowed to play the majors.

Players like Pancho Gonzalez, Jack Kramer, Ken Rosewall and Laver would have won a lot more majors if they were allowed to play the majors if there was always Open Era.

Pancho Gonzalez turned professional in 1949 and didn’t play Open Tennis until 1968. In the meantime he was probably the best player in tennis for perhaps over a decade. He definitely was at worst one of the top players in the world for almost 20 years. How many majors would Gonzalez, widely regarded as one of the greatest servers in history, have won in those 20 years?

Tilden would have won a great number of majors if transportation was better in those days. In the 1920s he would have to travel by boat and that could take an eternity.

So, while it’s clear that Novak Djokovic has a great argument to be the GOAT, I’m not sure if you can definitively say he is the overall GOAT. Laver always has his two Grand Slams and perhaps an even more staggering accomplishment in his 200 plus tournaments won. Gonzalez was the best player for a decade and was winning strong tournaments into his 40s. In fact, Gonzalez beat Laver after his 40th birthday.

What is clear is that Djokovic has accumulated the most Adjusted ATP points in history surpassing Federer! Federer, if we include Wimbledon 2022 as 2000 and adjusting for the various ATP System Changes plus adjusting for the Points Freeze had 167,449 Total Lifetime Adjusted ATP Points which made him for years the all-time leader as you would expect, considering his incredible record and all the years he has played.

Djokovic, however, has surpassed Federer this year with a total of 172,870 Lifetime Total Adjusted ATP Points. What is more amazing is that Djokovic did all of this in 289 tournaments while Federer accumulated all his Adjusted Points in 367 tournaments.

Djokovic’s average Adjusted ATP Points per tournament is now 598.17 to Federer’s 456.26. Nadal is at 494.98 per tournament.

Of the active players only Nadal is within striking distance of Djokovic on Adjusted Lifetime Accumulated ATP Points at 150,473. Nadal has said that 2024 will be his last year so that is doubtful he will catch Djokovic.

Here’s Nadal against Djokovic in the 2012 Australian Open final.

Djokovic owns 96 career championships. Can he catch the official ATP Leader Jimmy Connors at 109 titles and Federer at 103 career titles?

The actual all-time leader in total lifetime tournaments won is Rod Laver at over 200. I doubt whether he can catch Rod Laver. That possibly is the most untouchable record men’s tennis.

You can say with a clear conscience that Djokovic is the most accomplished player of the Open Era. The big question is whether he can reach 30 majors? That would truly put the majors record out of reach for decades.

Raymond Lee is a Tennis Now contributing writer and tennis historian who lives in New York. He has written about tennis for decades serving as a contributing writer for Tennis Week Magazine and Check out Raymond Lee's Articles: One for One: Who is the GOAT for One Match? Celebrating 50th Anniversary of John Newcombe's 1973 US Open Win, One for One: Who's The GOAT For One Match? and Holy Grail: Why Winning the Calendar Grand Slam is Toughest Task in Sport.


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