It was hard fought final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer at Wimbledon 2014. In a toiling and gruelling match lasting for four hours and decided in five sets, Djokovic somehow managed to beat Federer and secured his second title at the iconic Centre Court of All England Club.
The match was par excellence or even above. Two of the greats of the game were not ready to give an inch and impeccable Tennis was played as both the players won points on merit since there were very few unforced errors committed. Legendary Jimmy Connors, who was sitting in commentary box pronounced it as the best ever Tennis match and he went on further and commented that the only disappointing part of the match was that finally it came to an end.
Federer, playing for a record eighth title, showed unprecedented resilience, against a rampant Djokovic. Post-match, Djokovic commented “Thanks Federer, for letting me win today”.
2 ½ years before this match at Wimbledon, Djokovic was up against Spaniard Rafeal Nadal at the finals of Australian Open in 2012. It has been the longest Grand Slam final till now as it lasted for close to six hours and Djokovic finally defeated Nadal in this marathon encounter. It was display of top class Tennis as well, which left spectators and fraternity mesmerized & speechless. Most of experts and former greats of the game coined it the best ever Tennis match.
Men Tennis is currently going through its best ever phase. With presence of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, this is first time in the history that three players with more than ten single Grand Slams titles each are active at the same time. By 2012, with 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer had achieved in Tennis, which nobody else ever could. Majority of experts started believing unequivocally that Federer had been greatest ever Tennis player of all time. However with record 9th title at Roland Garros in 2014, Nadal made an emphatic statement and become a contender for greatest of all times with Federer. Winning nine French Open titles in a decade is no cake walk after all.
That’s not all. With incredible display of Tennis in 2015 and by sweeping three Grand Slam titles, Novak Djokovic catapulted himself in top most league of all-time greats alongside Federer and Nadal.
These three greats have shifted the benchmark of game by notches, over the past few years. Their dominance over the past decade can be judged by the fact that this trio has bagged 34 out of 40 Grand Slam titles during 2006-2015. Andre Agassi has already said that these three would take top three slots in list of greatest Tennis players of all times.
This is really an interesting discussion that how is the hierarchy of greatest Tennis players of all times looks like and how these three are stacked against other greats of the game. Let’s have a look. This discussion is however only limited to Open Era.
One unquestionable argument here is that number of Grand Slam won and completing a career slam is a major deciding factor; though playing style and on-court presence also has some weightage for sure.
Basis all this, Roger Federer still is the greatest player of all time with little scope of rebuttal. With 17 Grand Slam titles and career Grand Slam, he is the biggest achiever of the game. Five Wimbledon titles in a row, consecutive 10 Grand Slam finals, appearance in 27 Grand Slam finals, and 302 weeks at the top of ATP ranking are few of his exceptional achievements. Apart from his achievements, Federer arguably is the most complete player of all times and a fierce competitor. His playing style is extremely alluring and delectable; particularly his one-handed backhand is a real treat to watch. Apart from that, his temperament and on-court conduct has been exemplary. Jimmy Conners described his versatility & greatness quite beautifully “There are four kinds of players in Tennis, hard court specialist, grass court specialist, clay court specialist and Roger Federer”.
Notwithstanding the fact that he could not complete a career Grand Slam, as French Open kept him dodged, Pete Sampras takes the second place in the hierarchy. With 14 Grand Slam, he is second to Federer only and ties with Nadal. However in this hierarchy, arguably though, he has slight edge over Nadal because of his more inclusive playing style and his dominance in two Grand Slam titles, Wimbledon and US Open. Sampras won seven Wimbledon and five US titles. On other hand Nadal has such dominance in French Open only as nine of his 14 titles are French Open. The choice for second position is though very difficult and moreover since Nadal is still active, he has chance to make it to the second spot.
Novak Djokovic with 11 titles currently stands at number four but number two position is within his striking distance without iota of doubt. The only low point of otherwise an outstanding career of Djokovic is an eluding French Open title. But he has already played in three French Open finals, which makes him a strong contender for a career Grand Slam in days to come. The kind of devastating form, Djokovic is currently in, and kind of power Tennis he is playing, 2016 itself may be that year for Djokovic. In fact if he continues with his 2015 form & winning streak, he may very well achieve year Grand Slam in 2016. First Grand Slam of 2016 (Australian Open) has already been won by Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic is in the form of life time with age at his side and considering fading Federer and Nadal, Djokovic stands a strong chance of upstaging Federer as the most Grand Slam titles holder and greatest player of all time.
For fifth position in this hierarchy, if number is the sole criteria, then Bjorn Borg seems to be palpable contender with 11 Grand Slam, but Andre Agassi seems to be more worthy and there are rationales behind this. Borg could never win Australian Open and US Open whereas Agassi completed a career Grand Slam. Being more contemporary also goes in Agassi’s favour due to obvious reasons. Agassi was a special player. He had limitations as he was not hugely built, had a mediocre service and he was not so strong on net (despite that his first Grand Slam was Wimbledon). Agassi however was impeccable at baseline, his ground strokes were wonderful and he has been one of the best service returner of all time. His shots from baseline with clinical precision were enthralling. Agassi was charismatic and carried huge fan following, much more than any of his fellow players.
There are many other greats of the game, who deserves a mention but don’t make cut in to top five. Eight Grand Slam title holder, Evan Lendl is strongest of them. He however could never clinch a Wimbledon title (he lost twice in the final). Some may argue that he deserve a spot in top five because of his sheer dedication, diligence and fighting skills.
Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg with six Grand Slam titles each are also among the greatest players of all time. Both of them were exquisite grass court player, however like Sampras and Djokovic, both could never win French Open.
Boris Becker – Stefan Edberg rivalry was astonishing during late eight eighties and early nineties. Becker and Edberg faced each other in three consecutive Wimbledon finals during 1988-1990. Edberg won in 1988 and 1990 whereas Becker took title in 1989. It could have been their fourth encounter in a row in 1991, but Edberg lost to German Michael Stich in semi-final.
John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors made cut to the greatest player list as well with seven and eight Grand Slam titles each. However both could never win French Open. Mats Wilander won seven titles during mid-eighties but like Lendl, failed to win Wimbledon. Year 1988 belonged to Wilander. He clinched all Grand Slams barring Wimbledon, which was bagged by his fellow countryman Stefan Edberg and thus making it a Swedish year Grand Slam.
It is looks quite apparent that basis Open Era performances, Federer-Nadal-Djokovic easily take positions in top five of all time with Sampras and Agassi. Men Tennis is evolving with rapid pace though. In this scenario, this list is dynamic and after just few years, there can be many changes in it. Particularly Djokovic, who may very well be at the top of it in just couple of years of time. Let’s wait and watch.
In the end, it is worthwhile mentioning Andy Murray here. Despite being significantly talented, Murray has only two Grand Slams against his name. Unfortunately he is playing in the era of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic. Had he
played in some different era, Murray would have been much more successful. Hard luck to him.