As we eagerly anticipate the commencement of the 2023 men’s tennis season, many compelling storylines are taking shape. Novak Djokovic‘s return to Australia – without incident! – has many wondering if the 35-year-old can rise to the top of the sport once again, after a tumultuous season that saw him miss two of the four Grand Slams. Djokovic wants to enter the 2023 Australian Open as the favorite to win his 22nd major title.
There’ll be plenty of tantalizing tennis to watch in the first half of the season, including Rafael Nadal’s title defense at the Australian Open and his push for an ungodly 15th title at Roland-Garros, the continued evolution of Carlos Alcaraz as he seeks to stay atop the ATP rankings with a motivated cast of characters – think Djokovic, Casper Ruud, Daniil Medvedev and more – chasing him, and the general rise of players 25 and under who seek to knock Djokovic and Nadal from top dog status on tour
Still, I can’t help focus my attention on what will kick off the second half of the season: Novak Djokovic’s quest for an eighth Wimbledon title.
Why? Because it’s one of this overlooked corners of Djokovic’s legacy that will finally be given proper due with Roger Federer out of the picture. Is Djokovic the greatest grass-court player and Wimbledon champion of all-time? Not yet, but he could be…
One shy of matching the mighty Federer
Whether Djokovic finds a way to win his 10th title in Australia or not will go a long way in setting the table for what could be a crowning achievement at Wimbledon this summer. If he wins his 22nd Slam title in Melbourne he could be trying to take possession of the all-time Slam title record for the first time (depending on Nadal of course) at Wimbledon.
Either way there will be history at stake.
By winning four straight and six of the last eight Wimbledon men’s singles titles on offer, Djokovic has put himself one triumph shy of equalizing Roger Federer on the all-time men’s singles title last at SW19.
It is a rather surprising development to be sure. With each passing year, a few more aficionados start to recognize the fact that Djokovic may well be the best grass-court player in men’s tennis history. That distinction was solely Roger Federer’s until a few years ago, but Djokovic has continued to rack up titles at an alarming clip, and now he’s poised to match Federer in a few monumental categories.
5 consecutive titles?
Only Federer and Bjorn Borg have racked up five consecutive men’s singles titles at Wimbledon, a feat that Djokovic could match with a title in 2023. It’s a testament to his longevity that Djokovic has done this all after the age of 30 and, as we saw last year as he mowed down the competition like one of the machines that is used to keep Wimbledon’s pristine grass at eight millimeters in height, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Oldest men’s singles champion at Wimbledon?
In 2022 Djokovic became the second oldest men’s singles champion in Wimbledon history, and he’ll try to pass Federer as the oldest champion this summer. Federer won his last title at SW19 at 35 years and 342 days, and he reached the final at 37 years and 340 days in 2019, before falling to Djokovic in a dramatic five-setter.
Djokovic has been a thorn in Federer’s side at Wimbledon since 2014 – he defeated the Swiss in three consecutive finals (2014, 2015 and 2019) and significantly altered the Grand Slam title race in the process. An example: If Federer had been able to maintain domination and win two of the three finals against Djokovic, he’d have retired with 22 majors, leaving the Serb with 19 as he starts the season.
It’s no coincidence that some of Djokovic’s biggest career triumphs have come on Wimbledon’s grass. He has never stopped improving on the surface, and the fact that he has been able to get the best of Federer – the de facto grass goat – says a lot about his affinity for the surface.
The run keeps going
Djokovic grew up dreaming about winning Wimbledon, and he cherishes his success at Wimbledon deeply. It undoubtedly has played a role in his evolution at SW19.
“This Center Court and this tournament still has the most special place in my heart because it has always been my childhood dream tournament,” he said after defeating Nick Kyrgios for the title in 2022. “Of course, every time I step out on the court it is a feeling unlike anything else.”
Djokovic has won so much at Wimbledon (28-match winning streak, 7-1 in finals and no losses on Center Court since 2013) that he can’t help but feel invincible in the sport’s grandest cathedral.
“The more you win, it’s logical the more confident, the more comfortable you feel out there every next time you step out on the court,” he says.”So the run keeps going. I feel very connected with this court and with this tournament without a doubt.”
Who can stop him?
Another trend that has been working decidedly in Djokovic’s favor is the ever widening gap between himself and the rest of the field – specifically at Wimbledon. Grass is a surface that rewards experience more than any other, and Djokovic has that precious commodity in spades. Now that Federer is gone he’s unmatched in status. His biggest rival Nadal struggles at Wimbledon more than any other Slam, and world No 1 Alcaraz has played a mere six matches at SW19 – he’ll likely need more time before he can challenge for titles at Wimbledon. There are talented players, such as 2022 runner-up Nick Kyrgios and grass guru Matteo Berrettini, but Djokovic is in another class at the moment.
2023 and beyond
As we look beyond 2023 and into the future, it’s easy to imagine that Djokovic could focus more on Wimbledon and less on Roland-Garros, due to the fact that the grass is less grueling to play on. Federer was able to reach the final at Wimbledon a month shy of his 38th birthday, but ran into Djokovic when he got there.
If Djokovic can achieve the same, his potential opponent won’t have the same pedigree, and likely won’t have the game, either. It all points to a three- or four-year window in which Djokovic could continue to flourish, and if he does records will fall with alarming rapidity. Djokovic may be 35 going on 36, but his best days at Wimbledon may be very well ahead of him.
If he can continue his domination on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club, Djokovic may pull away from the rest of the pack and firmly establish himself as the most decorated player in men’s tennis history.
Over the past two decades we have been blessed by a golden age of men’s tennis, and seen the tectonic plates of the sport shift many times. Surely there will be more tremors in 2023, and Wimbledon could see the biggest of all – in the cold of December it’s one more reason to look forward to the warmth of July.