History man: Novak Djokovic reacts to Andy Murray History man after winning the 2016 final: Novak Djokovic reacts to Andy Murray after winning the 2016 final (AFP Photo / MARTIN BUREAU)
Paris (AFP) — Novak Djokovic can only become the second man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles twice at the French Open simultaneously with victory.
Once again, though, a returning Roger Federer and rejuvenated Rafael Nadal will stand in his way.
World number one Djokovic finished with victory at Roland Garros in 2016 his first private stranglehold of all four Slams.
The Serbs, having clinched the 2018 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and then a seventh Australian Open crown in January this year, are intriguingly close to another ‘ Djoko Slam. ‘
Federer and Nadal, each with 20 and 17 Grand Slam career titles, may be ahead of Djokovic’s total 15-time major winner and have completed Slam career as well.
Not even Federer or Nadal managed to hold all four of the biggest prizes of the sport at the same time, however.
It’s such a rare feat that only Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969)—all the Grand Slams calendar — have pulled off the sweep in the history of the sport.
Djokovic, who turned 32 on Wednesday, is playing down his potential date with destiny even though it would put him on his own halfway to a 2019 Slam calendar.
After losing to Nadal in last weekend’s Italian Open final, the Serbian was in no doubt that in a little over two weeks ‘ time it was the Spaniard who would probably be celebrating a 12th Roland Garros title.
“Nadal, favorite number one, undoubtedly — then everybody else,” he said.
Djokovic, who in Thursday’s draw will be the top seed, might be forgiven for his caution.
He was shocked in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2018 by Italian traveler Marco Cecchinato, a defeat that was such a crushing bodyblow that he even contemplated skipping Wimbledon.
For the first time since 2015, Federer has turned his back on clay court tennis to focus on Wimbledon, returning to Roland Garros.
- 10th anniversary
This year marks the 10th anniversary of his one and only triumph in Paris and should the 37-year-old challenge the odds and clinch the 2019 title he would become the oldest Grand Slam champion ever.
Age did not dim his ability to beat Gael Monfils in Madrid and Rome against Borna Coric with Federer saving match points as he found his feet on European red clay again.
“It was interesting and fun to be honest, but not so challenging,” Federer said despite being cut short by a leg injury in his Rome campaign.
Nadal, whose record at Roland Garros stands at a stunning 11 titles and a 86-2 win-loss record, claimed Sunday’s ninth Italian Open title and 34th Masters record.
His three-set victory over Djokovic was timely as it was his first 2019 title, following three successive semi-final losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
The last two were against Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas, both of whom, like Federer, were playing with a one-handed backhand.
Thiem, Roland Garros ‘ 2018 runner-up to Nadal, has defeated the Spaniard on clay four times.
“There’s a new wave coming through with the one-handed backhand that can counter some of Rafa’s spins and left play,” said Federer, a Paris-based four-time runner-up.
Outside Djokovic and Federer, the world’s fourth-ranked Thiem and sixth-ranked Tsitsipas are the candidates most likely to dethrone Nadal.
For Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the brightest star of the so-called ‘ Next Gen ‘ for so long, the same can not be said.
The German’s run to last year’s quarter-finals remains his best Slam performance while at any of the European clay events in the run-up to Paris he has yet to get beyond the last eight.
“He has lost confidence in himself, he gets very angry, gets down and destroys himself,” said fellow countryman Tommy Haas, a number two former world.