There was a time when Novak Djokovic, the reigning world number one, was forced to settle for a career in the shadows of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
In the early part of his career, Djokovic, though extremely talented, often ended up second best to the two most successful tennis players of all time and would gladly settle for, and probably aim for, being the third best player.
Things have changed in entirety now to an extent that one can now go as far as saying that its Nadal and Federer who have now been reduced to being in the shadows of Djokovic.
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Federer, at 33 years of age, is a spent force. It is just the sheer class of the veteran Swiss that he still holds the number two position in the world but it can be said now with a good degree of surety that he is highly unlikely to lift another major title.
In the best of three sets, he still remains to be a portent force. Nadal, on the other hand, is faced with his own troubles. Although still young, the Mallorca native has encountered a plethora of injury setbacks of late which have certainly taken a toll on his game and ability to compete.
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Currently, he is struggling to rediscover his old form again and morale sapping defeats to Milos Raonic in Indian Wells and Fernando Verdasco in Miami will not have done his confidence any good ahead of the start of the European clay swing.
It is in such circumstances that Djokovic now will be eyeing a one major piece of silverware that has so far eluded him: the French Open.
The 27-year-old’s three previous Roland Garros bids have been cruelly thwarted by Nadal. However, with Nadal currently reeling from lack of confidence, with Federer no more the force he used to be and with no other major new emerging stars having a game good enough to unsettle Nole on clay court (Kei Nishikori might have a say on that), it appears that Djokovic’s moment of glory is now just around the corner.
This year’s French Open will carry extra significance and importance, not just for Djokovic, but for Nadal and the definition of the tennis’ current era. A win for Djokovic, especially in the event it comes against Nadal, will effectively signal the end of the Nadal-Federer era and will likely be a fatal blow to Nadal’s prospects of once again reaching the game’s top perch.
Also, it will set the stage for Djokovic to go on and achieve something which neither Nadal nor Federer have: a calendar grand slam, something which Andre Agassi has already predicted.
If Djokovic does go on to top Nadal to seal his maiden French Open title, there won’t be many who will be betting against him going on to win Wimbledon and US Open trophies, given the mammoth confidence surge he will draw from the FO win.
It won't be easy
Nadal will have his own targets and shot at the history to aim for. A French Open triumph this year will mean a tenth title overall in the Paris grand slam, a feat no other player has ever achieved and a number insane enough to force any layman into describing him as the greatest player ever to have walked a tennis court.
Besides, it will also serve to allay the perception of him being drawing to an end of his career and will keep the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry alive, while reining in Djokovic’s chances of winning everything which falls his way.
The signs, though, look ominous for Djokovic. With the Australian Open title already in his kitty, the Serb is currently experiencing a purple patch reminiscent of his achievements in 2011. He has already topped Federer in a clinical final at Indian Wells and is on course to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double for the third time in his career.
With no fitness or injuring problems barring him and him coinciding his peak form with the decline of Federer and Nadal and Andy Murray vanishing into the mist of mediocrity, Djokovic now appears to be a juggernaut which will take some stopping.
Of all the discussions which we have had about who the greatest ever tennis player has been, with even Djokovic at times sharing his opinion on the subject, perhaps it is time we at least start observing Djokovic in that perspective, if not completely throw his name in the mix.
Who knows, a French Open title and a Calendar Slam this year and with no major opponent in his tracks, it will require some imagination to think what he can end up achieving.