Everything points to Djokovic… only young guns stand in his way

Everything points to Djokovic! With Marin Cilic and Andy Murray the only male players with a Grand Slam title to their name and defending champion Dominic Thiem out with injury, only the young guns stand in the way of Novak’s 21st Slam at the US Open

  • The 2021 US Open gets underway in New York City on Monday  
  • Novak Djokovic is one of three players involved that have won a Grand Slam
  • Andy Murray and Marin Cilic are the only other former champions involved
  • Defending champion Dominic Thiem is one of many to have injury issues 

One is a 32-year-old ranked in the 30s and seemingly well past his best. The other is 34, playing with a metal hip and battling just to stay consistently fit.

Incredibly, Marin Cilic and Andy Murray are the only two male players, other than Novak Djokovic, in the US Open with a Grand Slam title to their name, the former a Flushing Meadows winner seven years ago.

The others, including defending champion Dominic Thiem, have long-term injuries as their bodies rebel against the strain.

Novak Djokovic is the favourite to win the US Open and claim his 21st Grand Slam title

The only other male competitors to have won a Grand Slam are Andy Murray and Marin Cilic

So if anyone is going to stop Djokovic making history over the next fortnight, he will have to come from a small, younger group trying to go where they have never gone before.

Alternatively, the 34-year-old Serb could somehow beat himself, succumbing to what will be stifling pressure.

Not only is he trying to emulate Rod Laver’s Open era feat from 1969 of winning all four Grand Slams in the same year, but he is attempting to move one ahead of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s 20 major titles.

Beating himself is what Djokovic did 12 months ago, capping a summer of embarrassment by pole-axing a line judge when he angrily swiped a ball away.

The others, including defending champion Dominic Thiem , have long-term injuries

He has responded to all that magnificently this year by sweeping all before him, although the Olympics were a reminder that a self-destructive temper lurks not far beneath the surface. His racket-throwing tantrums in Tokyo showed he is all too human, even if his metronomic brilliance often argues against that.

Djokovic goes into the fortnight — he opens against highly-rated Danish teenager Holger Rune — trying to rationalise what lies before him.

‘I don’t want to say it’s now or never for me because I think I’m going to have more opportunities in my life to win Slams,’ he said.

‘I don’t know if I’m going to be having more opportunities to win calendar Slams. That’s why it’s a unique opportunity.’

His failed medal bid in Tokyo is the only tennis he has played since Wimbledon, but his huge experience and a benign early draw probably renders that irrelevant. It is that vast reservoir of know-how which gives him a decisive edge over the four players who are the most realistic threat.

Djokovic is one of just three players involved that have actually won a Grand Slam

The likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas are among the most realistic threats for Djokovic

These are the 20-somethings Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex Zverev and Matteo Berrettini.

Consider what it took for the then man-most-likely, Thiem, to win in New York last year. Federer and Nadal were both absent and Djokovic removed himself from the tournament.

Even then the Austrian only just managed to sneak over the line in what turned out to be an agonising, almost awkward final against Zverev.

All in the aforementioned group have shown that they can compete at Djokovic’s level. None of them, however, have proved that they have the mental wherewithal to do it in the best-of-five-set format, especially in the biggest moments when the pressure is at its greatest.

This may explain the extravagant predictions, post-Wimbledon, that Djokovic could end up with a Grand Slam total in the late 20s or even 30.

More likely is that Djokovic does indeed put himself beyond Nadal and Federer.

But once he is safely ahead and the other two are off the scene, which may be soon, his motivation will probably wane in the knowledge that his achievements at the majors are untouchable. The Slams will then dry up.

Nothing is inevitable over the next two weeks, because this is a Grand Slam in which there are many uncertainties.

Unlike others during the pandemic it is not being held within a tightly-restricted player bubble. As in the closing stages of Wimbledon, there will be large crowds present.

More likely is that Djokovic does indeed put himself beyond Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Probably less than half the players are vaccinated, much to the disapproval of Murray.

An upshot is that 36-year-old French player Gilles Simon has been pulled out and, having declined the jab, is being confined to his hotel room for 10 days as a close contact of his coach, who tested positive.

So all things may not be equal, but if they are then Djokovic will probably be making more history.

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