What lessons can be drawn from Novak Djokovic breaking Steffi Graf’s long-held record?

If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation about who the greatest tennis player of all time is, there is a strong chance you walked away from it feeling like you were unable to make your point. The reality is that this can be a futile pastime given that people’s minds are often made up before they enter into these discussions; they’re not having them so that they can be convinced otherwise.

The reason for that is simple: tennis is an individual sport, meaning certain human characteristics appeal to some more than they do to others. Essentially, this is why players who are clearly without the accomplishments needed to be spoken about as the best, are brought up in conversation. However, making a winning impression on someone is not the same as being the best player (statistically). As of 2023, that honour almost exclusively belongs to the man they call Novak Djokovic.

Indeed, the case for describing the Serbian player as the greatest to have ever played the game grew once more when he was able to surpass Steffi Graf’s record for most weeks spent as world number one.

German Excellence

Graf did, of course, enjoy a fabulously successful career that saw her set a record for the most time spent as number one after spending 377 weeks at the summit of the women’s game. That is an extraordinary amount of time for the stats to declare that you are the best player on the planet and for anyone who is unsure of how long 377 weeks actually is, it works out to just over seven years.

For the majority of tennis professionals, securing playing rights on one of the main tours and earning a living as an athlete is a lifelong goal. Now, just imagine what it takes to do enough to be the best player in the world for a time that spans seven years.

It goes without saying but this record that Graf set seemed like it would never be broken, not even Serena Williams could lay a glove on it after retiring after 319 weeks at the top. But then, as we now know, along came Djokovic who did what seemed impossible by surpassing Graf’s record.

Djokovic makes history

It was in late February when Djokovic started his Monday morning as world number one and in doing so, took his personal tally to 378 weeks on the throne of the men’s game; a number that is enough to put him at the top of the all-time list in history with no active player remotely close to catching him.

Djokovic’s victory at the 2023 Australian Open set him in motion to pass Graf’s record. The win in Melbourne returned the 35-year-old to the height of the standings in the men’s game. You could say that Djokovic’s triumph Down Under was a potentially significant win for many other reasons but chiefly, as it also put the Serbian player level on grand slam wins with Rafa Nadal, who also has 22.

At this stage, it appears as if it is all clicking into place for Djokovic at the most opportune time in the race to be crowned the greatest with his two historic rivals unable to match his longevity. With Roger Federer retired and Nadal’s body under the most intense pressure it has ever been, the door to eternal greatness has never been wider for Djokovic to walk through.

More history beckons in 2023

This is especially true if you take into account that the 35-year-old is the favourite to win the year’s next grand slam, the French Open, after being priced at +150. Crucially, these particular odds have been supplied by BetVictor – a reliable bookmaker ranked as one of the best new betting sites in the UK. In other words, fans can count on the accuracy of these odds that make Djokovic the man to beat in France.

Should Djokovic be able to do what BetVictor and many other bookmakers are saying he has an overwhelming chance of doing, then he would stand alone as the leading grand slam winner in the men’s game and also hold the record for the most weeks at number one.

There are no two ways about it, the supporting evidence needed to prove that Djokovic is the greatest of all time is there. The tennis historians will be clearing their throats after reading that in an effort to interject and yes, it’s worth addressing Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam wins.

The truth is that the Serbian player will need to win 25 slams before all of the stats will point toward there being no greater player to have ever played the game. Now, even if Court’s record is not one that a significant amount of fans frequently put forward to prove her superiority over every other player in history, it would be contradictory to write a piece on the invaluable currency of stats and then give Djokoivc a free pass when there are a few more hurdles to clear.

On the other hand, the frightening news is that Djokovic is the favourite to win every Grand Slam this year, which means there is an outside possibility he may achieve this feat by the time the current calendars go out of date.

The undisputed champion

All the chips could be falling in place for Djokovic, and should they do so then there will no longer be any need for a debate to be had about who the greatest of all time is.

Of course, that won’t stop them from happening, it is human nature after all and there will always be someone who has a player in mind who they feel is more deserving of the title. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and the sport is all the richer for having passionate fans but, when armed with just the use of stats, this is no longer a real debate that can be won by anyone other than those who say Djokovic is the greatest.

Posted in BLOG, Tennis Column and tagged .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *