When Novak Djokovic beat Casper Ruud in the final of the 2023 French Open, the Serb further cemented his position as one of the greats in the history of tennis. The win at Roland Garros earned Djokovic his 23rd Grand Slam (or major) title, moving him one ahead of Rafael Nadal and three ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time list (in the men’s game, at least!). For many, this alone makes Djokovic the greatest men’s player of all time. But is he really truly the GOAT?
In this article, we’ll examine the stats (with a strong focus on the major tournaments) to decide whether Djokovic is the best ever, or whether that title ought to go to Nadal or even Federer. Let’s warm up with the Serb player’s very impressive Grand Slam statistics. For those not familiar with the notion, the Grand Slam tournaments are the four most prestigious events in the sport: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
Djokovic Grand Slam Stats
Note that the statistics are correct up to and including the completion of the 2023 French Open.
- Australian Open: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023
- French Open: 2016, 2021, 2023
- Wimbledon: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022
- US Open: 2011, 2015, 2018
Djokovic vs Nadal
Now second in the list of (men’s singles) Grand Slam winners, Rafael Nadal has a tidy haul of 23 to his name: two Australian Opens, two Wimbledons, four US Opens, and a whopping 14 French Opens. But how did Novak Djokovic get on when he faced the man from Mallorca?
At the time of writing, the pair have met 59 times in total and Djokovic has the edge having won 30 matches to Nadal’s 29. That edge disappears when it comes to the Slams however, as the Spaniard has won 11 to Djokovic’s seven and that includes a 5-4 lead when it comes to Grand Slam finals. So although things are quite close between them, when it comes to the majors, Nadal has a strong case to be seen as the better player, at least when facing the Serbian.
Fans of Novak would suggest that the stats are skewed somewhat by Nadal’s dominance on clay (as he leads 8-2 in matches between them at the French Open). But Nadal also has a 2-1 lead at the US Open, although Djokovic is ahead at the Aussie Open (2-1) and Wimbledon (2-0). In short, there’s not a lot to choose between them but Nadal has won six of the last 10 meetings between them in all competitions, the most recent being the 2022 French Open quarter final. Given he is around a year older than the Serb that’s impressive stuff.
Djokovic vs Federer
Roger Federer is considered by many to be the greatest ever but this is seemingly based on his perceived prowess, elegance and skill rather than the statistics. There’s no doubt that the Swiss maestro is one of the greatest. But he’s now four majors behind Djokovic, having won the Australian Open twice, the French Open once, Wimbledon eight times and the US Open five times.
In the UK especially, Federer’s reputation has certainly been enhanced by his eight Wimbledon triumphs. That is a men’s singles record… at least ahead of the 2023 renewal, as Djokovic will be eager to draw level with Federer.
Interestingly, the only man to have beaten Federer in all four majors is Novak Djokovic. And, in a nice mirror image, the only man to have beaten Djokovic in all four majors is… you’ve guessed it, Roger Federer. But really, Djokovic has the edge having won 27 of the 50 matches between the pair to Federer’s 23.
At majors, Djokovic also leads the Swiss (11-6) when it comes to meetings between them at Grand Slam events and, crucially, that includes four final wins to a single victory for Federer. The only final between them that Federer won was way back in 2007 at the US Open, with Djokovic taking the more recent four (Wimbledon in 2014, 2015 and 2019, and the US Open in 2015). Although Federer is probably the more stylish player of the two, there’s little doubt that Djokovic is better, at least based on the meetings between the pair.
What Hasn’t Djokovic Won?
There are two notable exceptions when it comes to achievements in tennis for Djokovic. Firstly, he’s never won an Olympic gold medal (and even Andy Murray has achieved that… twice in fact!). To be fair, Roger Federer hasn’t managed this either (at least in the singles, he did land a doubles gold in 2008). But Nadal has. Indeed it was Nadal who beat Djokovic in the semi finals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the Serb had to settle for a bronze medal.
The other notable exception for Djokovic is that he hasn’t won all four Grand Slam titles in a single calendar year, usually referred to as the Grand Slam. There is also a career Grand Slam, which is the achievement of winning each of the four majors over a player’s entire career. In addition, each of the major tournaments is commonly referred to as a Grand Slam, so this can all get rather confusing. Either way, winning the four big ones in one calendar year is extremely difficult.
Indeed, such is the difficulty of the task that only two men have ever achieved it: Don Budge in 1937 and Rod Laver in both 1962 and again in 1969. Djokovic came very close to achieving the calendar Grand Slam in 2011 when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open but lost in the semis at the French Open to Federer. He went even closer in both 2015 and 2021 when he also won three Slams but lost in a final: in 2015 he lost to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final and in 2021 he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open.
To be fair to Djokovic, he did win four Grand Slam titles in a row between 2015 and 2016 and so held all four at one time, dubbed the non-calendar Grand Slam. And that’s something neither Federer nor Nadal ever managed.
Conclusion: Bow Down to the GOAT
Overall, based on the statistics (and especially the one that shows Djokovic has won the most majors), it’s hard to reject the case for the Serbian to be regarded as the greatest men’s singles tennis player of all time. Nadal has the strongest case to challenge Djokovic on that front given that he’s had the beating of him more often at majors. And Nadal would likely have won more majors (and hence Djokovic fewer) had the Spaniard not been plagued by so many injuries over the years. But really, that’s something we’ll never know.
Of course, in single’s tennis, there is still one player with more major wins to their name and who has won the four Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year. And that player is Margaret Court, who won a total of 24 majors between 1960 and 1973. So if Djokovic really wants to be considered the GOAT, he needs to bag two more majors. But, frankly, we wouldn’t put it past him.