Novak Djokovic is currently in a race against time to be crowned the greatest tennis player of any era. The Serb will be 34 at the end of the 2021 spring and has to win at least three more Grand Slam titles before being recognized as, statistically, the best player of all time. Whilst this looks a very doable task for the world number one, he does have to rely on his two greatest rivals – Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – not winning any more Grand Slams.
This seems somewhat unlikely given Nadal’s superiority on clay. The Spaniard won his 13th French Open title in the autumn of 2020 and it seems a mere formality, such is his brilliance on clay, that he will make it 14 in the 2021 edition of Roland Garros. Anyone betting on tennis will see this is the case as Nadal is at evens to win the French Open, which would take his Grand Slam tally to 21, one more than Federer and three more than Djokovic.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) October 12, 2020
With this in mind, all of a sudden, the path to greatness looks a lot more arduous for Djokovic. But should the Serb have reached the summit already? There is a case to be made that suggests that Djokovic could have actually surpassed Federer and Nadal’s record had it not been for his fiery temperament. This short fuse has undoubtedly cost him the chance to win Grand Slams in the past.
The most recent example was his disqualification from the US Open in 2020 when he struck a line judge with a wayward ball. The general feeling around the incident was that it wasn’t intentional, but at the same time, entirely avoidable.
🚨NOVAK DJOKOVIC DISQUALIFIED 🚨
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) September 6, 2020
Who can forget Rafa Nadal’s comment after the incident when he said that ‘it is important to have the right self-control on the court.’? Now, it is what the Spaniard isn’t saying here that is the real headline as he clearly suggests that Djokovic does not have an even temperament when faced with adversity.
Nadal’s right given that this wasn’t a one-off. There have also been unfortunate incidents where Djokovic has taken his anger out on unsuspecting ball boys. The Serb even had to issue an apology to one particularly unlucky ball boy after shouting in his face during the 2015 Miami Open final.
When weighing up the evidence, it does seem like Djokovic is prone to outbursts of extreme frustration. Indeed, there is a certain discipline that seems to be lacking in the 18-time Grand Slam winner. The failure to internalize the irritation he feels has hurt his chances of retiring as the best player to have ever played the game of tennis.
There is of course still time to address this given that Djokovic is the youngest of the Big Three and should theoretically, be the last to retire. With the ongoing help of a sports psychologist, the Serb will surely end his career with the most Grand Slams. But should he continue to shoot from the hip and be driven by impulse, that honor will belong to either Federer or Nadal.