With Novak Djokovic's 20th, the Holy Trinity of tennis is complete

The Serbian world No. 1 defeated Matteo Berrettini of Italy, the seventh seed, to lift his sixth Wimbledon trophy and tie Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

Djokovic's Wimbledon triumph now sees him level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles among men.   -  REUTERS

The history of sports abounds with stories of singular achievements by individuals reaching mythic proportions. Don Bradman’s batting average of 99.94, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10, Bob Beamon’s 8.90m long jump.

The imperative word here is “individuals.”

The record belongs to one man or woman, a number indelibly linked to him or her.

READ: Novak Djokovic joins Federer, Nadal in rare Channel Slam triumph after Wimbledon win

But perhaps never before have three individuals achieved such levels in their sport simultaneously – statistically and otherwise – as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have.

On Sunday, by winning the Wimbledon men’s singles title for the sixth time, Djokovic tied his two contemporaries with 20 Grand Slams of his own. The Serbian world No. 1 defeated Matteo Berrettini, seeded seventh and playing his first Grand Slam final, to post his 21st consecutive win on the grass of the All England Club, dating back to 2018, as well as his 21st consecutive Grand Slam match win, going back to the beginning of the year.

Djokovic’s sixth Wimbledon crown marks the third time in his career, after 2011 and ’15, that he has won three of the four Majors in a single year – a feat that Federer achieved in 2004, ’05 and ’07 and Nadal in 2010.

Amazingly, of the three holders of 20 Grand Slam each, only Djokovic has been able to the win the Australian Open and the French Open in the same year, completing his non-calendar year Grand Slam with the two titles in 2016, but the Serbian then lost in the third round of Wimbledon.

In 2021, 28 days after becoming only the third man in history after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to win every Grand Slam singles title twice, Djokovic holds the third Major of the year as well, and is on course to become the third man to win the calendar year Grand Slam, after Laver and Don Budge.

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While the Big Three have set their own standard in men’s tennis, Serena Williams’ pursuit of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles seems to be shuddering and stuttering to halt. The American last won a Major at the Australian Open in 2017. She then left the tour to give birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, but since her return in early 2018, the former world No. 1 has failed to add to her tally despite reaching four finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018 and ’19.

Williams, who turns 40 on September 26, lost in the first round at this year’s Wimbledon. She retired from her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich at three-all in the first set – only the second time in 24 years on the tour that she has gone out at this stage of a Grand Slam.

Williams is the same age as Federer, who turns 40 on August 8. Federer’s own pursuit of more Grand Slam titles has hit pause since he collected two Australian Opens and one Wimbledon in 2017 and ’18. After sitting out most of last season due the pandemic and two surgeries, he returned to Grand Slam action at the French Open – he skipped the tournament four of the last five years, but made the semis in 2019 – and got as far as the quarterfinals at this year’s Wimbledon, where he lost in straight sets to Hubert Hurkacz with a bagel in the third.

Simple mathematics will tell you that Williams has the greatest chance of matching Court’s mark – she is just one short, after all. That the record will be matched is a given, but the indefatigable Nadal, 35, and the all-conquering Djokovic, 34, have joined the race to get there first.

In tennis, Court’s 24 Grand Slam singles titles are spoken of in the same breath as Laver’s calendar year Grand Slams in 1962 and ’69. But increasingly, Laver’s achievements are spoken of simply to give perspective to those of the Big Three.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have built auras of mythic proportions not just individually, but collectively as well, their achievements spoken of in the same breath, their legacies intertwined. Today, Novak Djokovic stands as the first among equals, so to say. But the Serbian has won eight of the last 13 Grand Slams – all after the age of 30. He has age on his side – and knees, as Nadal’s critics will say – and with it, as the last of the Big Three to reach the mark of 20, a chance to no longer stand on the shoulders of giants, but to be one himself.

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