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In men’s tennis’ Big Three, there’s only one greatest of all time

This past Sunday, Novak Djokovic made tennis history by becoming the third man to win a 20th major singles championship. And he did so in style – Centre Court at Wimbledon.

With the whole tennis world watching – including Tom Cruise, Novak Djokovic captured his 6th Wimbledon title and third major singles championship of the year, having already won the Australian Open in February and the French Open last month. Winning three titles in a row is not easy in any sport, and especially in this day and age where some have titled this the “Greatest era in Men’s tennis history.” Also known as the era of the “Big Three.” Just how dominate have the Big Three been? Just take a moment to swallow this stat:

Winning three majors in a row has only been done once before in the modern era – when another member of the 20/20/20 club, Rafael Nadal, captured the 2010 French, Wimbledon and US Open titles. Djokovic will have an opportunity to surpass not only Federer and Nadal in terms of the most majors of all time, but securing the yearly Grand Slam, holding all four major trophies at the same time.

But you thought that was it? Lest we forget that the “2020” Olympics are being held this summer in Tokyo, and if Djokovic decides to participate, he needs to win Olympic Gold and then the US Open in September to become the first man to ever win a Golden Slam. If that were to happen, it would be absolutely absurd and certainly cement his status of being one of the most elite athletes in the world – in any sport.

When asked what it means to have won his 20th major title, Djokovic had this to say:

“I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger as legends of our sport, the two most important players in my career and why I am the player I am today. They made me realize what I needed to improve, mentally, physically and tactically.

“When I first broke into the Top 10, for three or four years, I lost most of the big matches against these guys and something shifted at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. The past 10 years have been an incredible journey and it’s not stopping here.”

He’s certainly right. After 2010, a flip switched in Djokovic. He had won only one major up until that point (the 2008 Australian Open), and was 1-2 in major finals. But tinkering around with new racquets, coaches, and dieting, truly transformed a player who was once tormented by a struggling serve and a tendency to mentally break down into a completely different player.

Since the 2011 Australian Open, Djokovic has won an astounding 19 majors. To date, having a career 20-10 record in major finals, it is one of the best major finals win percentages of all time. To go along with his 20 total majors, Djokovic has 60 ATP Tour titles and five year-end championships to give him a total of 85 career titles. Another part of Djokovic’s résumé is this impressive stat: out of the 30 Grand Slam finals he’s been in, he has played the final of each Grand Slam tournament at least six times, an all-time record, and has won multiple titles at all four majors, the only male player in the Open Era to do so.

Djokovic isn’t done there. He also holds the record for two more GOAT-like statistics:

  • The longest number of weeks holding the No. 1 ranking, 329 weeks and counting
  • The first ever male men’s tennis player to win over $150 million in prize money

These are historic figures, and there is no doubt in my mind that Djokovic is now cementing himself as the greatest tennis player of all time. Having won at least each major twice, he has become the greatest all-surface player that we possibly have ever seen. A true triple threat when it comes to hard court, clay, and grass.

Being a tennis player myself and having learned the game 17 years ago, I quickly became attached to the likes of Federer and Nadal. They were in vogue at the time. Yes, Agassi was still clinging on, but he was at the end. I tried to model my game after Federer, and hit spin like Nadal. But with time, my game evolved, and so did the landscape of men’s tennis. Djokovic emerged as a legit contender and soon lit the tennis world ablaze.

For almost 20 years, we have been spoiled by tennis’ big three. The grace that Federer has shown on and off the court, a true champion. The emergence of the greatest clay court player of all time in Rafael Nadal. And now, the greatest men’s player of all time … Novak Djokovic.

You can follow Bruce Vail on Twitter (@BruceJVail) and e-mail him at [email protected].

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