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Best Player Ever: Djokovic or Federer?

Gareth Dowdell - Thursday, September 17, 2015

With his recent US Open triumph, Novak Djokovic has now become the greatest tennis player to have ever played the game. And I have been an ardent Federer supporter for over a decade, so this is not an easy thing to declare. He is clearly better than any other player on the tour right now, and with his playing style there is no reason he won’t be for another 4-5 years to come.

He currently holds 10 grand slam titles, and will be the firm favourite to win all 4 in 2016. Let’s conservatively assume that he wins 2 slams a year for the next 4 years. That would put him at 18 majors, surpassing Federer’s 17, and giving him the most ever in the Men’s game. It should be noted however, that Federer can win another one. But Djokovic will likely need to be injured, or lose before reaching Federer in the draw.

So what is it about Djokovic that makes him so good? Even when compared to Federer and Nadal, he is the most complete player ever. He doesn’t have a glaring flaw in his game. What used to be his achilles heel - his fitness - he has turned into a major asset. (The last time Djokovic retired from a match was 2011). He glides around the court, in contrast to the physical nature of a player like Nadal. His strokes appear effortless and smooth. He is a better returner than Agassi was. Like Federer, it seems he will still be competitive into his mid-30’s.

So who can conceive of beating Djokovic in a Grand Slam tournament? It can be done, but right now it requires a huge effort from a great player to beat him. This year the players that have beaten Djokovic are: Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Roger Federer and Ivo Karlovic. Three players are in the top 5 in the world, and Karlovic possesses an explosive canon for a serve. Just like Tiger in his prime, you’re really flipping a coin between Djokovic and the rest of the field to pick the winner of a grand slam.

What about other rising talents? The top 3 prospects to emerge in the last couple of years: Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Kei Nishikori have been inconsistent at best. Only Nishikori can lay a legitimate claim at having the game to beat Djokovic. Yet neither player made it past round 3 at the US Open. What about the young guns? The teenagers set to take the world by storm? Names to watch in the coming years are: Hyeon Chung, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Nick Kyrgios, Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev. Despite the immense talent evident in this group, it will likely be another few years before they will be serious contenders. Only Chung made it past the first round in New York this year.

Remember that fresh wave of American talent that was due to arrive after Sampras and Agassi bowed out? With the intermittent exception of Andy Roddick, they never turned up and Federer won 15 slams in 7 years to become the greatest player ever. Now the path is clear for Djokovic to stake his own claim in tennis history.

Does anyone seriously have what it takes to challenge the heir apparent? Would the real contenders please stand up?