Three down. One to go.
Novak Djokovic stands on the precipice of one of the great accomplishments in sports – a calendar year tennis Grand Slam. And you’d be wise not to bet against him.
Djokovic has swept through the hard courts of the Australian Open, the red clay of the French Open and the grass of Wimbledon, winning the first three Slam events of the year.
Still ahead is the U.S. Open, a daunting grind on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows which begins Aug. 30. But Djokovic has won there three times before and with history beckoning him, he is the favorite to win there again. If he does, it would be his 21st Grand Slam event victory placing him one ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic is traveling in exclusive company. No man has completed the Slam in more than 50 years. The only others to do it were Don Budge in 1938, tennis’ white trousers era, and Rod Laver, who did it in 1962 and again in 1969.
There have been two other men who arrived at the U.S. Open with Slams in their sight. Jack Crawford in 1933 and Lew Hoad in 1956 both needed the final tournament to complete the accomplishment. Both fell short, Crawford losing to Fred Perry and Hoad losing to Ken Rosewall.
Think of all the brilliant stars of this sport – Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Connors, Sampras, Agassi, Emerson, Newcombe and a bevy of others. None came as close to a Grand Slam as Djokovic is right now. Since Laver’s second Slam in 1969, only two players, Mats Wilander in 1988 and Jim Courier in 1992, have won the first two events of the four-tournament Grand Slam. That’s how tough this task is.
Before the U.S. Open, tennis has one other major event on the calendar in the Tokyo Olympics. There will be no spectators permitted because of pandemic protocols and that could cause Djokovic, who excites fans and feeds off their energy, to pass on it.
Win both Olympic gold and the Open, and it would be the Golden Slam, an achievement that only Steffi Graf managed in 1988. Djokovic seems less enthusiastic about playing in the Olympics without fans. Skipping it would be a wise decision. There is no need to play there. The Slam is out there for the taking and six weeks of rest before the Open would serve Djokovic’s needs better than an Olympic medal.