Novak Djokovic is the man to beat at the upcoming US Open, with the world No 1 firmly setting his sights on making history in New York. As well as being the top-ranked player, a win at Flushing Meadows would make him the first man more than 50 years to complete the calendar Grand Slam and win all four majors in one year. Not only that, but a win would also make him the most decorated male player in history at the big events with a record 21 Slams.
Djokovic is currently level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles, having come from behind in the race to match his rivals.
The world No 1 is looking to set himself apart at the upcoming US Open by pulling ahead and winning his 21st as well as achieving the Calendar Slam, a feat his rivals have never completed.
The last man to win every Slam in the same year was Rod Laver in 1969, and Djokovic has already managed to hold all four at once – Wimbledon 2015, US Open 2015, Australian Open 2016, Roland Garros 2016 – but never in the same season.
The Serb has also achieved another record that sets him apart from his rivals, he has now won every single Grand Slam at least twice, with Federer and Nadal one French Open and Australian Open title short respectively.
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After an upset loss at Roland Garros to none other than Djokovic himself, the Spaniard only returned to play two matches in Washington last week, beating Jack Sock in three gruelling sets before falling to Lloyd Harris in another long battle.
The 35-year-old looked to be the world No 1’s biggest competition at Flushing Meadows, having won four US Open titles to Djokovic’s three, but is now in doubt after pulling out of Toronto and Cincinnati to return home and consult with his personal doctor before making a decision on whether to compete in New York.
To add to the list of names in doubt, defending champion Dominic Thiem may not make it to New York as he recovers from a wrist injury he picked up on the grass courts of Mallorca in June, which left him needing to wear a splint that has only just been removed.
While everything looks to be falling into place for Djokovic, it also means the pressure has never been more on his shoulders.
The Serb found himself in a very similar position last summer when he arrived in New York for the first tournaments after tennis was suspended for the coronavirus pandemic, with the ‘Cincinnati’ Open held at the same venue ahead of the US Open.
He was the favourite to win and capture what would have then been his 18th major in the absence of Nadal and Federer but found himself defaulted from the tournament when he was broken by Pablo Carreno Busta in the opening set of their round of 16 encounter.
Some could argue that the pressure then was too much for him to handle, perhaps that being the reason for his outburst as he hit a ball away in frustration which unintentionally made contact with a linesperson, resulting in immediate disqualification from the tournament.
Now, just 12 months later, he could return to the same event with both his long-time rivals away once again, but this time history is on the line, making it an even more demanding scenario this time around.
The 34-year-old also had the chance to be the first man to complete the Golden Slam, winning all four majors and Olympic gold in one year, but fell short in Tokyo when he lost his semi-final to Alexander Zverev from a set and a break up.
He also lost his bronze medal match to Carreno Busta a day later, again having a meltdown against the Spaniard as he hurled his racket into the empty stands during the final set and destroyed a second racket before falling in three sets.
While his three successive Slam wins at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon is an unmatched achievement in the current era of tennis and one that cannot be underestimated, if he fails to complete at least the calendar Grand Slam the focus could shift to what he failed to do – win Olympic hold and the US Open – rather than what he has achieved.
Even with impressive young talents including Zverev as well as the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the draw, Djokovic is still expected to beat the young guns, especially over five sets.
Still, if there’s anyone who can handle pressure it’s the world No 1, and withdrawing from Toronto and Cincinnati to rest and reset after a gruelling start to the season could be exactly what he needs to come into New York with his head clear and his eyes on the prize.