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At Wimbledon, all roads lead to Djokovic

The Serbian tennis player has an 85.8% win rate on a grass court, surpassing Björn Borg, Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic, during a training session.BEN STANSALL (AFP)
Alejandro Ciriza

While the rest of the players continue trying to unravel the mysteries of the grass court, Novak Djokovic is resting easy. “For me, I don’t need to have Carlos [Alcaraz] or anybody else really to find that extra drive and motivation when I enter slams because I know that I have to win seven matches to win a title,” he told a press conference ahead of his Wimbledon opener.

While he is known for his skill on clay, Djokovic has quietly appropriated the surface that the great Roger Federer made his own. The Swiss stepped aside last year, but three years earlier he received the final blow when Djokovic beat back two championship points and vindicated himself as an accomplished specialist on the grass, which has traditionally been associated with other tennis players with a more specific profile. Despite lacking the mystique of Björn Borg or Rod Laver, the aura of Federer and the recognition given to tennis legends such as John McEnroe, Boris Becker and his idol Pete Sampras, Djokovic has been piling up the records. By his own right, Djokovic has already set a new benchmark.

That’s according to French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who guided Serena Williams in her best years. “Beating Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon is probably the highest mountain to climb for any tennis player,” the prestigious coach says in an episode of the Netflix series Break Point. But others are quick to point out to Rafael Nadal’s wins at the French Open. Djokovic is still far from reaching the Spanish player’s figures on clay, but the numbers point to his solid and growing dominance on clay, a court in which only the legendary Borg (from 1976 to 1980) and Federer (from 2003 to 2007) have been able to win five consecutive titles. Sampras won seven titles between 1993 and 2000, but his string of wins was broken when he lost against the Dutchman Richard Kajicek in 1996.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic at training on Saturday.Clive Brunskill (Getty Images)

Djokovic is now aiming to match them. With 86 wins and only 10 losses, the last of which was in 2017 — in the quarterfinals, against Czech player Tomas Berdych—, Djokovic has an imposing (85.8% win rate on a grass court. While no one is yet to equal Federer — who has eight titles and an 86.9% win rate on grass — Djokovic has already surpassed tennis icons such as McEnroe (85.8%), Rod Laver (84.8% ), Sampras (83.6%), Borg (83.7), Jimmy Connors (82.8%), Becker (82.3%) and Rafael Nadal (79.2%).

Court's Big 24

“I don’t feel more relaxed,” he told reporters when asked about how he was feeling going into Wimbledon, after having won the Australian Open in January and the French Open five months later. With 23 titles to his name, he is one step away from the record of records, the 24 of Australian tennis player Margaret Court. “I still feel hungry for success, for more Grand Slams, more achievements in tennis. As long as there’s that drive, I know that I’m able to compete at the highest level. If that goes down, then I guess I’ll have to face probably different circumstances and have a different approach,” added Djokovic, who plays his first Wimbledon match Monday against Argentine Pedro Cachín, who is ranked 67th in the world. When the two last met, Djokovic was forced to retire due to an elbow injury.

Novak Djokovic returns to US player Frances Tiafoe
Novak Djokovic on Thursday.BEN STANSALL (AFP)

“I never played on the grass courts before I was 17 but I always dreamed of winning Wimbledon. That was always a goal. When I started playing on grass for the first few years, I actually thought I was doing pretty well. I got to the top 100 in the world for the first time here at Wimbledon. Then, for several years, I did struggle to really take my game on the grass courts to the next level, because naturally for me, it feels better to slide. So, I had to learn to move, how to walk, how to play, how to read the bounces. It does take time more than any other surface to really get used to it.”

Grass court is the rarest surface we have in the sport, which is contrary to what you had maybe 40, 50, 60 years ago,” he continued. “But I think in the past 10 years of my career, I’ve adapted very quickly.”

“When I enter Center Court, it just awakens something in me and I’m able to perform at a very high level,” he added.

Today, no one shines at Wimbledon like Djokovic, who has more wins at the tournament than the 19 other components in the top 25. Of the 127 tennis players competing, only Scotsman Andy Murray has defeated him at Wimbledon. “I still feel like that young Novak coming to the tournament and really being able to live his dream,” he said.

Today, once again, all roads lead to Djokovic, who remains firm before the buzz around Alcaraz. While he was questioned ahead of the French Open, now no one doubts his dominance on the court.

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