Novak Djokovic stands at the brink of doing something no other man has done in 52 years: win the calendar year Grand Slam.
Rod Laver was the last — and only — man to win all four major tennis titles in a year (1969), and Laver actually did it twice (1962). Steffi Graf captured all four women’s majors — and an Olympic gold medal — in 1988.
With the U.S Open set to begin Monday, Djokovic was asked if winning the Grand Slam would constitute the greatest achievement of his career.
“I think it’s an easy question, yes, it would be,” he said with a smile. “Obviously I know how big of an opportunity is in front of me here in New York where historically I’ve played really well over the years. It’s probably the most entertaining tennis court that we have. [The] crowd will be back on stadium.
“I can’t wait. Honestly I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a Slam here which would obviously [would] complete the calendar Slam.”
A win here would also give him 21 career major titles, moving him one past his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both of whom are out of the tournament due to injury. So is defending champion Dominic Thiem.
“My participation here, without Rafa and Roger participating, I feel it,” Djokovic said. “I know there’s a lot of people who are going to be watching my matches and expecting me to do well and fight for a Slam.”
Thiem and seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe a are among those picking Djokovic to complete the Grand Slam.
World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who could face Djokovic in the final, is among a group of challengers looking to take Djokovic down during his quest for history.
“We’re going to try to get him,” Medvedev said earlier Friday. “Of course, this competition to be the first one of these young guys to win a Slam is, I think, yeah, everybody wants to do it, but there’s going to be only one who makes it.”
Djokovic is returning to the Open after an embarrassing default in the fourth round last year when he accidentally hit a lineswoman in the throat with a ball during his fourth-round match with Pablo Carreno Busta. That allowed Thiem and Sascha Zverev to play in the final without Djokovic.
McEnroe at the time said Djokovic “is going to be the bad guy the rest of his career,” but the Serb appears to have moved past it and McEnroe has been very complimentary of him since then.
“I think Novak is going to win two or four more, perhaps deservedly be considered the overall greatest player that ever lived,” McEnroe said this week of the GOAT debate involving Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
Asked when he first began thinking the Grand Slam was realistic, Djokovic joked that it happened right after he beat Medvedev in the Australian Open final in February, but said he really began to think it could happen after he beat Nadal and then Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the French Open in June.
“After I won the French, I thought, Okay, I don’t have a lot of time to prepare for Wimbledon, for grass, but I do feel more comfortable, and I like my chances more in Wimbledon than I probably do in Roland Garros,” he said.
“Yeah, that probably would be identified as the moment where I felt it could be possible.”
After winning Wimbledon he played the Tokyo Olympics in a quest for the “Golden Slam” but was upset by Zverev in the semifinals and then lost to Carreno Busta in the bronze-medal match before pulling out of the mixed doubles citing injuries.
“Olympics, unfortunately didn’t end up with a medal,” he said. “It was a great experience of sharing the Village and the dining room with 10-plus-thousand athletes. It’s a very unique experience that you remember forever. You take a lot of positives out of it, putting aside the tennis performance, just in general. I think you can learn a lot, you speak life, you speak sports. I really value that experience a lot.”
Now he stands seven wins from matching Laver’s achievement and doing something no man has done in over half a century. So has he reached out to the Rocket for any advice?
“I have not spoken to him about the calendar slam,” he said. “I’ll try to seek for his advice. Hopefully he can tell me something that could help me.”