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Tuesday, October 26, 2021
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Pages: Grand Slam

Match Point

Like golf, the sport of tennis has four major tournaments. There’s the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. If you win all four in the same calendar year, that’s called winning a Grand Slam.

That achievement is so rare that it has been accomplished by only five human beings—of the estimated 107 billion people that have inhabited Planet Earth. Don Budge was first in 1938; Maureen Connolly followed in 1953; Rod Laver did it in 1962 and 1969; Margaret Court in 1970; and Steffi Graf made it the “Golden Slam” when she also won the Olympic gold in that historic 1988.

Novak Djokovic can become the sixth human being if he wins in New York City next Sunday.

To win a major, you’ll need to beat seven players in 14 days. Can the 34-year-old Serbian do it?

Consider this: Djokovic owns 20 major titles. The rest of the 127 players in the 128-player draw? Four majors. And if we take out Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, that figure drops to zero.

“Overwhelming favorite” is an understatement.

The only blemish in Djokovic’s year was his Tokyo Olympics sojourn. He lost in the men’s singles; lost in the men’s doubles; lost in the mixed doubles. In between, he lost his mind, smashing his Head PT113B racket before hurling it to the empty stands; he also crushed the bronze medal hopes of his compatriot Nina Stojanovic when he defaulted their mixed doubles match.

This is not the first time that Djokovic lost his temper. A year ago, he was on track to win the US Open when he accidentally swatted a ball that struck the throat of a line judge 40 feet away. Djokovic was given an automatic disqualification.

But that was 12 months ago. And, with the case of the Olympics meltdown—when he was expected to showcase two gold medals to a thunderous crowd in Belgrade, instead going home empty-handed—the Tokyo nightmare was one month ago.

Djokovic has not played a tournament since the Olympics. Will any of that matter? I doubt it.

As hot-tempered as Djokovic is, his mind is also his greatest weapon. No player, maybe with the exception of Rafael Nadal, possesses a stronger will and spirit than tennis’ all-time leader in prize money ($151 million).

The US Open is a near-perfect venue for the world No. 1. He triumphed in Flushing Meadows in 2011, 2015 and 2018. Of his 20 majors, 12 were collected on hard courts—the same surface as the Big Apple’s.

And the big plus: the minus of Roger Federer and Nadal in the draw, both with a combined 40 majors (including nine US Open crowns). Also, the defending champ Dominic Thiem is out injured.

What also works for Djokovic: the three-out-of-five scoring system of majors. It’s tough to take a set off Novak; it’s very tough to take two sets off him; it’s very, very, very, very tough to take three sets off him.

Which brings me to the three people who have the slimmest of chances to accomplish this: Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Can Djokovic achieve the Grand Slam?

Only if he doesn’t slam his racket.


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