Novak Djokovic Knocks on the Door of a Very Exclusive Club
“A lot of players couldn’t play that well on grass, so I had an advantage in that area, and maybe the fact I was a left-hander on grass was a little bit of an advantage, too,” said Laver, referring to his excellent sliced serve wide in the ad court.
Djokovic is the first man since Laver to win even the first three legs of the Grand Slam: an indicator of the depth of the challenge. If Djokovic, 34, finishes the job in New York, he will be the oldest player to achieve the Grand Slam in singles. Laver was 31 when he won the U.S. Open in 1969.
“It’s quite a milestone, and there’s a reason why no other male tennis player in the Open era has managed to win all four Slams in the same season,” Djokovic said. “The game has been improving every decade and obviously it’s not comparable to the tennis of 40 or 50 years ago, because of the technology of the rackets. They used to play with wooden rackets. We have so much more advantage and help coming from the rackets and just the pace and just generally the game itself has transformed a lot. But that probably makes it more challenging and difficult to win it.”
And yet Laver found it challenging in 1969. He had to win a marathon five-set semifinal over Roche at the Australian Open. He had to rally from two sets down in both the second round of the French Open, where he beat Dick Crealy, and Wimbledon, where he beat Premjit Lall before holding off Stan Smith in five sets and Ashe and Newcombe in four-setters. At the U.S. Open, Dennis Ralston pushed Laver to five sets in the round of 16.
“All it takes is one bad day and it’s gone,” Laver said.
He was once convinced that Roger Federer would be the one to join the Grand Slam club, but Rafael Nadal’s clay-court prowess snuffed out most of Federer’s best chances and quite a few of Djokovic’s, too. Nadal has won the French Open a record 13 times.
“So unless Nadal does it, those are 13 years nobody is doing the Grand Slam,” Laver said with a laugh.
Astonishingly, given their stature, neither Nadal nor Federer has won even the first two legs of a Grand Slam.