What next for Novak Djokovic: A calendar slam in 2024, perhaps?
Serbian world no.1 renews his quest to raise the bar at the Australian Open from Sunday
What next for Novak Djokovic? The question will be up in the air as the world no. 1, with 24 grand slam titles to his name, launches his campaign against qualifier Dino Prizmic on Sunday in the quest for a staggering 11th Australian Open title this year.
Memories of his bitter experience in Melbourne two years ago, when the Serb was holed up in a hotel room and not granted a visa for his refusal to take the Covid vaccine, seem distant. Indeed, Djokovic seemed to bask in the spotlight on Thursday, indulging in a game of charity tennis with former Australian captain Steve Smith and then trying his hand at some cricket too, all set to embark on defending what has been his favourite slam of the four.
It’s been a total of 407 weeks as world no. 1, over a period of 13 years, that the 36-year-old has held sway in men’s tennis, a journey not free of hiccups. From being essentially an outsider along with the Big Two of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the initial years (Andy Murray had dropped out of the elite club after his battle with injuries), Djokovic has gone on to become the undisputed claimant of the GOAT tag in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Taking a step back from the hype around Djokovic’s campaign, which has gone up several notches after Nadal’s pullout from the year’s first slam, it seems the pursuit of a calendar slam could be the big motivation for him. While he has held the four slam titles together in the past, no male tennis player has achieved the feat of winning all four slams in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969, though Djokovic was just a match away from doing it in 2021. Last year, he was pipped at the post by Carlos Alcaraz at Wimbledon, his only slam loss of the year.
Not that failure to achieve a calendar slam makes Djokovic any less a champion, but he will certainly be up to challenging himself with the target in the new year. The Serb is the overwhelming favourite to win at least two of the four slams: Australian Open and Wimbledon. A potential comeback by Nadal might challenge him at the French Open, but the jury is still out on whether the 38-year-old Spaniard can be the same force on clay on his comeback.
Up next could be an Olympic gold, which has eluded the great performer, who takes fierce pride in his national identity. Djokovic did come close a couple of times in the past and on current form, may want to set the record straight in 2024.
An interesting sub-plot to the tennis event in Paris 2024 is that the competition will be taking place on the clay of Roland Garros. The prospect of yet another Nadal-Djokovic clash on the red dirt of Paris, with an Olympic gold at stake, is mouthwatering. The likes of Alcaraz will also be there but Djokovic will fancy his chances of winning the gold for Serbia and thereby ticking that box in his extraordinary CV.
There are, of course, other personal landmarks that could be on the agenda — such as taking his number of Wimbledon titles to eight and US Open on the hard courts to five — to equal the records of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, respectively. There is always that proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, as Alcaraz showed at Wimbledon, but this can provide the incentive to Djoko's legion of fans to track his campaign throughout the year.
Over then to Novak, for the show to begin…