French Open 2019

French Open 2019: Records continue to mount for Djokovic, Nadal and Federer

World No1 continues pursuit of Nole Slam - with the endorsement of Rod Laver

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

The records among the top three men in tennis, No1 Novak Djokovic, No2 Rafael Nadal, and No3 Roger Federer, are mounting up as each of them made their ruffle-free progress to the quarter-finals in Paris this year.

The day after Nadal set a new record for quarter-final appearances at the French Open, 13 of them, Djokovic matched him with his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff. But the world No1 also set a new record of his own, a 10th consecutive quarter-final in Paris, one ahead of Federer.

In doing so, Djokovic reached a tally of 44 quarters across all the Majors, moving into second place for the all-time record of 54 held by Federer.

The 32-year-old Djokovic broke Struff’s serve five times in the 1hr 22min contest, while Stuff never looked close to repeating his upset he imposed on No13 seed Borna Coric in a five-set slug-fest—11-9 in the last.

The German had also beaten No20 seed Denis Shapovalov and then Radu Albot in four sets and three and a quarter hours, and the weight of those matches was always destined to be a factor against the ruthless tactical tennis of Djokovic.

Struff lived with the former champion for the first few games, but once the break came in the first set, it was a lost cause. Djokovic hit 31 winners, and faced only one break point in the match. He pulled off the win with a drop shot, ending the match with just 12 unforced errors in a match of 139 points.

So Djokovic, like Federer, moves into the last eight having not dropped a set—the only men in the last eight to do so—while Nadal has dropped only one set, to No27 seed David Goffin.

So at every stage, and in almost every match, it seems, these three titans reach new a milestone, or notch up another record.

Nadal continues to put together extraordinary figures for Roland Garros: 90 wins for just two losses, and targeting a record 12th title—which would make him the first player ever to win 12 singles titles at any one Major.

Federer is playing in his 76th Major, extending his own all-time record. On the way, he has already become the oldest man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since 1972, and he set a record for the most fourth-round appearances at the tournament, 14—which was swiftly matched by Nadal.

The Swiss also hit his 11,000th ace, a mark matched only by Ivo Karlovic and John Isner, and in reaching the quarters in Paris, he matched Chris Evert’s record of 54 Major quarter-final singles appearances in the Open Era.

But one record is on everyone’s mind, especially that of Djokovic. For the world No1 is in pursuit of what has become known as the Nole Slam—winning all four Majors on the bounce—for the second time.

He did it before in 2016, achieving something that his two big rivals have been unable to do, despite their greater tally of Majors.

And it made Djokovic just the third man to hold all four Majors at once, and the first since Rod Laver did it in a single calendar year. Should he win four in a row again, he would become the second man in history, and the first in the Open era, to hold all four Majors at the same time on two separate occasions.

And Djokovic has made no secret of his desire to accomplish that record:

“This is the tournament that I was preparing for, so to say, for last couple of months. I wanted to peak in this tournament and this is where I want to play my best tennis. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but for me, there is an extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago in my career, and that gives me enough reason to believe I can do it again.”

Again, Rod Laver is the yardstick with this two calendar Slams. So the thoughts of the 80-year-old Laver were of particular interest when he held a long press conference in Paris on the 50th anniversary of his unparalleled achievement.

He said of Djokovic:

“I marvel at someone like Novak with his ability and his consistency. When you look at the way he plays the game, he doesn’t go bang, bang, bang, ace, volleys. He wins every individual point from the baseline. He’s quite an individual on his own ability.

“Yes, he’s won all four at one time… so he’s already done that portion [of winning a Grand Slam] But he just won the Australian, so now he’s in line to win a [calendar] Grand Slam. Yes, it’s a long way to go, he’s only got one, but this is probably, for him, I would think, the toughest match.”

Laver has been asked before about the relative merits of the three champions, and has be careful to praise all of them for their different qualities. He did so again:

“You know, they all play a little differently. You look at their records, which is really how you summarize who the best players are… I think you look at three of them, you look at Novak and Rafa and Roger. To me, they are three just huge champions.”

But of course many were curious about his point of view on who was favourite to win here come Sunday. First Federer’s chances:

“He’s certainly in it and he’s certainly playing well, but I don’t know if anyone has really pushed him yet…”

He continued:

“But one thing is true: You only have to win seven matches. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to win 128 of them. [But] I think someone like Rafa is going to be tough if Roger and those two meet.

“I don’t know. I’m probably favouring Novak [to win] at the moment and then Rafa and then it goes down the line. Then it’s who’s going to play who.”

The safe money suggests that it will be Djokovic and Nadal who end up playing one another come the final day, and if they do so, that will create not just one but three records. They will extend their most-played rivalry to 55. It will set the record for the most-tour level finals in the Open era. And they will equal the record for most Major finals contested in the Open era—up to 26.

For now, however, Nadal will have to beat No7 seed Kei Nishikori, who put out French favourite Benoit Paire, 6-2, 6-7(8), 6-2, 6-7(8), 7-5.

And Djokovic will face No5 seed Alexander Zverev, who beat Fabio Fognini, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(5), to return to the quarter-finals. The two men have split their previous four matches 2-2, with their only clay match, in Rome two years ago, going the way of the German.

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