Why I think Djokovic will go down in tennis history as the eternal No. 1

By Jürgen Fritz, Mon 14 Jun 2021, Cover picture: Roland Garros-Screenshot

After his win in Roland Garros yesterday, I expect Novak Djokovic to overtake not only Rafael Nadal but also Roger Federer in the All-Time Ranking and become the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time. Why? Let me try to explain.

Djokovic draws level with Nadal in the JFB All-Time Ranking and …

After the 2021 French Open, the perpetual JFB All-Time Open Era Ranking look like this:

  1. Roger Federer: 33.2 points
  2. Novak Djokovic: 31.05
  3. Rafael Nadal: 31.03
  4. Pete Sampras: 24.1
  5. Björn Borg: 17.3
  6. Ivan Lendl: 16.5
  7. John McEnroe: 14.6
  8. Andre Agassi: 13.86
  9. Jimmy Connors: 13.82
  10. Boris Becker: 10.56
  11. Stefan Edberg: 10.5
  12. Mats Wilander: 9.9

The points are as follows:

  • 1 point per Grand Slam title (at the Australian Open until 1991 depending on how small the field was, a) 96 instead of 128 or b) even only 64 or c) even less, and depending on how many top ten players were missing, d) four or five, e) six or seven or f) even eight or nine, correspondingly lower rating of 0.9 to 0.5);
  • 1 extra point if all four Grand Slam tournaments are won in a calendar year (only Rod Laver managed the Grand Slam completion in the Open Era in 1969);
  • 0.7 extra points if a player win four consecutive major titles not in a calendar year but within twelve months (Novak Djokovic managed the Non-calendar year Grand Slam from Wimbledon 2015 to the French Open 2016);
  • 0.5 extra points if all four A tournaments are won in the course of a career (Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal managed the Career Grand Slam);
  • 0.6 points for Olympic gold medal in men’s singles and 0.2 points for Olympic gold medal in men’s doubles;
  • 0.5 points for the ATP Finals title;
  • 0.3 points for the Davis Cup title;
  • 1 point for the Player of the Year;
  • 0.5 points for No. 2 of the year;
  • 0.3 points for No. 3 of the respective calendar year.
Grand Slam winner since Wimbledon 2003

(c) JFB

With his win at Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic has edged past Rafael Nadal in the JFB All-Time Ranking by a whisker, or rather the two are almost level, a good two points behind Federer.

… he can also overtake Federer as early as this year, or next year, or the year after

If Nole finishes the 2021 season as No. 1 again, as it looks like he will with his two Grand Slam wins at the Australian and the French Open, which also makes him No. 1 in the 2021 ATP Race, he will add one point, so that he will then already be at 32.05. If he also wins Wimbledon or the US Open, where he is the favourite to win the tournament, another point is added and he will have 20 Grand Slam titles like Federer and Nadal. If he even wins both Wimbledon and the US Open, he will have 21 A titles and two points would be added for this and a full point for the completed Grand Slam instead of 0.7 points for the non-calendar-year Grand Slam. Djokovic would then still be at 34.35 points this year and would have clearly overtaken Federer.

In addition, Djokovic can win the Olympic gold medal in men’s singles (0.6 points) this year, if they are held. The Olympics will also be played on hard court, Djokovic’s preferred surface. But it is more likely that he will now concentrate entirely on Wimbledon and the US Open with a view to Grand Slam completion and finishing the year as No. 1 for the seventh time.

But in November he could also win the ATP Finals for the sixth time (0.5 points), at which Federer will probably not be eligible to play at all, as he is unlikely to make the top eight this season. And Nadal has never won the ATP Finals, which don’t suit him (hard court indoors), and is unlikely to do so this year either at the age of almost 35.5.

In addition, Djokovic, provided he remains healthy and largely injury-free, at 34.0 years of age can certainly win more titles in the next two or three years, possibly even longer, whereas this is extremely unlikely for Federer (39.8 yeras old) and will be very difficult for Nadal (35.0) at least. Rafa might still be able to win one major title, but certainly not three, four or five. And I don’t think he could finish a season as No. 1 again at now over 35, as he can’t even play as many tournaments as the younger players. After the first half of the year, which is clearly his strongest because all the big clay tournaments are here, Rafa is only in 4th position in the 2021 ATP race, and will possibly be overtaken this week by Rublev or Medvedev or both.

Roland Garros 2021 could have been the second key tournament, Wimbledon 2019 was the first

Both players were more or less aware of the importance of the semi-final at Roland Garros. „You tell yourself there is no pressure“, Djokovic said. „But there is a lot of pressure, trust me.“ And further: „It was for sure the most beautiful match I’ve played here in Paris“, Djokovic said on court in French.

And Nadal said in his post-match press conference: „I’m sad, I lost at the most important tournament of the year for me. But it’s just a defeat on a tennis court you know, and tomorrow I’ll be at home with my family. That’s OK. My opportunities to win here are not eternal. In our sport, you must admit both victory and defeat. I do know that I can’t win the tournament 15, 18, 20 times. It’s not a disaster at all. The years are going by and I know that there is lesser chance with every year“, Rafael Nadal said. „It is a very important tournament for me, but I am aware that you can’t win every time. I will come back next year with the same attitude and work before. I played against one of the best ever.“

Roland Garros 2021 could have been a key tournament. Before that, the 2019 Wimbledon final was already a key match when Djokovic beat Federer 13 to 12 in the fifth set after the FedEx had already had match points and looked like the sure winner. This was the third time Nole had beaten Federer in his living room after 2014 and 2015. And now, what is probably even more difficult, perhaps the most difficult thing ever in sport, he beat Rafael Nadal after 2015 for the second time at Roland Garros, while Nadal has never beaten Djokovic in his living room, at the Australian Open, and Federer only once in 2007, then never again.

In 2012, Nadal came very close to beating Djokovic in Melbourne, but lost 5-7 in the fifth set after 5 hours 53 minutes in the longest Australian Open final ever. This was the first key match Djokovic won. Another key match was the semi-final at Wimbledon 2018, where Djokovic again beat Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set after 5 hours 15 minutes in one of the most high-class grass-court matches in recent years. Djokovic then had no problems at all with Kevin Anderson in the final, beating him in three sets after 2 hours 19 minutes. The decisive match to win the Grand Slam was also the match against Nadal.

If Djokovic had lost only the last two key matches, Wimbledon 2019 and French Open 2021, and Nadal had won the tournament for the 14th time yesterday, Djokovic would have „only“ 17 Grand Slam title and 29.05 points instead of 31.05, but Federer and Nadal would each have 21 A title and one point more, i.e. 34.2 and 32.05 respectively. Then it would have been very difficult for Nole, at least, to make up this lead of three or more than five points.

And if only Nadal had won against Djokovic on Friday and against Tsitsipas on Sunday, he would be at 21 Grand Slam titles and at 32.03 points. In addition, he would then have had a good chance of being in the top three at the end of the season (1 point for the No. 1 – 0.5 points for the No. 2 – 0.3 points for the No. 3). Rafa would then have had at least 32.33 points and another Grand Slam victory would have been enough to overtake Federer in the JFB All-Time Ranking, provided Federer did not pick up any more points.

Djokovic, on the other hand, would have remained at 30.05 points, almost 2.3 points behind Nadal. He could have caught up (e.g. with another Grand Slam win + finishing the year as No. 1 + another title at the ATP Finals), but it would have been much harder. Friday’s match could have been the second key match after Wimbledon 2019 for the eternal No. 1, the second key match in the race for the GOAT, The Greatest Of All Time, and Djokovic snatched the second at the decisive moment.


Active support: Jürgen Fritz Blog (JFB) is completely independent and free of charge (no paywall). However, it costs money, time and a lot of work to be able to offer articles at this level regularly and permanently. If you would like to honour my work accordingly, you can do so by classic bank transfer to:

Jürgen Fritz, IBAN: DE44 5001 0060 0170 9226 04, BIC: PBNKDEFF, reason for payment: JFB. Or via  PayPal – 3 EUR – 5 EUR – 10 EUR – 20 EUR – 50 EUR – 100 EUR