And so to the clay, and the possibility that Novak Djokovic is just two months off what would be the greatest achievement of modern times. In fact, scrap that – the greatest achievement in tennis history, from tennis’s Wooden Age, through the Graphite Age to the modern day. If Djokovic were to win the Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros in June, he would be the first man to hold all four grand slams simultaneously since Rod ‘Rocket’ Laver did so 43 years ago in 1969.
Djokovic’s achievement would surpass Laver’s. The fact that Laver won his slams in a calendar year adds a little romance and mythology, but does not make his feat any greater.
When Laver did the calendar-year grand slam in 1969, and also previously in 1962, the sport was very much still ‘lawn tennis’, as three of the four championships were played on grass, with the only exception being the clay-court French Open. Now Djokovic’s generation are competing on three different surfaces, on hard courts as well as on the turf and the terre battue. Consider, also, that the fast, skiddy cement of the US Open is not the same as the slower, higher-bouncing courts in Melbourne; make that four different surfaces.
Another point to be made is that this is a much more brutal and competitive sport than it was during Laver’s swinging Sixties, that there are greater physical and technical demands now than there were back when the tennis balls were coated in white felt, and they chopped down trees to make rackets. It took a while after tennis began its open, professional era in 1968 for the culture of the sport to change, so there still would have been an amateur ethos when Laver went around the grand slam block a second time.
Consider, also, that many more countries now produce players for the slams, to the detriment of the grand slam nations. Plus, Djokovic shares an era with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the all-time greats of the men’s game.
So can Djokovic do it? Last season he was kicking red dust into Rafa’s eyes, beating him in the finals of Madrid and Rome. If his semi-final against Federer at the French Open had been played in warm and dry conditions – and not a dark, dank evening – I think Djokovic would have reached his first final in Paris. So we never got to see how Djokovic versus Nadal would have played out in a French Open final.
Who would be that surprised if Djokovic were to win his first title at Roland Garros, and in doing so complete his career grand slam, hold all majors at the same time, and achieve the greatest feat in the history of men’s tennis?
Sex sells. But so does anger. The sort of anger which turns your head puce. A British schoolboy, who owns a racket which John McEnroe smashed at Wimbledon, has been told by the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow that it could be worth up to £15,000. McEnroe gave the mangled frame to the boy’s mother, who rented a flat to the New Yorker in the 1980s.