Has Aus Open changed the GOAT debate?

Driven by a relentless pursuit of history, Novak Djokovic will leave Melbourne Park with half of his bid for historical domination complete.

On March 8, the 32-year-old will end the great Roger Federer’s record of most weeks as world No.1 – a mark he’s likely to extend well into 2021, even after the ATP’s ranking freeze ends next month.

With 17 grand slams, 81 singles titles and a staggering $145,000,000 in career prizemoney, few have reached Djokovic’s heights in tennis – but he recently revealed the two carrots that could drive him to keep playing until the age of 40.

“I think that I still have things to do here in this sport. I believe that I can win the most slams and break the record for (most weeks) at No. 1. Those are definitely my clear goals,” Djokovic said last May.

Djokovic has previously tried to keep his own thoughts on the GOAT debate more private, saying last October “it’s not my place” and that others are better to judge.

But what is clear is Djokovic is hellbent on building a body of work that takes that guesswork out of anyone’s hands.

Who is the GOAT of men’s tennis? Picture: Getty ImagesSource:HeraldSun

After watching Djokovic dismantle French veteran Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of this year’s tournament, Australian Nick Kyrgios – who hasn’t been shy in revealing his innermost thoughts on the Serbian great – was asked about tennis’ most fiercely disputed question.

His conclusion? That Federer, for his skillset and talent, was the greatest. Then came a tiny asterisk…

“But Novak…” Kyrgios started.

“Obviously what he’s doing now, look, I’m just watching him play Chardy and Chardy doesn’t even believe that he can win, and when you reach that status, you must be pretty good.”

Nadal had a chance to close the 2160-point gap in the rankings this Australian Open – where victory would have netted him 2000 points.

Instead, following Wednesday night’s incredible five-set defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas confirmed consecutive quarter-final defeats at Melbourne Park for Nadal, he walks away with 360.

He could even drop to third in the world rankings should Russian dynamo Daniil Medvedev claim a maiden grand slam title, which would lift him to 10535 points and lift him above Nadal’s 9850.

However Nadal, who remains level with Federer on 20 grand slams, may still hold one ace in the GOAT debate: the clay courts of Roland Garros.

Three years ago, former world No.1 Gustavo Kuerten predicted Nadal would reach an extraordinary 15 French Open titles. Nadal’s won three since then, and it no longer seems like such a bold theory.

That would take the Spanish superstar to 22 grand slam titles, meaning Djokovic would need a further six to tick the last item off his grand slam bucketlist – and the cavalry is finally coming.

And after years of false dawns, ‘generation next’ is finally looming as a genuine threat to the title ambitions of the Big Three – with Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Greek rising star Tsitsipas surging into the semi-finals of this year’s Open.

Which might be why Djokovic, who turns 33 in May, doesn’t feel as though he has the finish line in sight.

“I don’t believe in limits. I definitely want to go for a long time,” Djokovic said.

“I will not be able to play at this intensity, with this many tournaments and this much travelling, for a long time. I might be playing at 40, but then there will probably be a focus on the biggest tournaments and the tournaments that mean the most to me.”

Originally published asHas Aus Open changed the GOAT debate?

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