Kolkata: Two down, two more to go. Broken down in the simple terms, Novak Djokovic will be looking at the job in hand this way as he is on the cusp of equalling Rod Laver’s record of winning a calendar Grand Slam - which stands in tact since 1969.
However, chasing records - which surely plays on the mind - does things to even the greatest of champions and the world No.1 Serbian must be well aware of it. Rafa Nadal failed to overtake Roger Federer’s alltime high tally of 20 grand slam titles after running into an unstoppable Djokovic in the semi-finals of French Open last month, while Serena Williams had been waiting for the last four years to overtake Margaret Court’s record of singles slam crowns.
However, it’s a Djokovic 2.0 who is going about his business since he overcame the brush with a dip in form in 2017 - something which is often attributed to
a mental health issue. In the last four years including the ongoing one, Djokovic had added seven grand slam titles to his kitty in a show of remarkable consistency and has a 21-0 record in the three slams in 2021 so far.
A win against young Italian hulk Matteo Berrettini in the men’s final at Wimbledon on Sunday will put him at par with the other Big Two - Federer and Nadal - and that’s only the short term goal. The 34-year-old is looking to be in the form of his life - technically as well as emotionally - and really looks well poised to sweep all four Grand Slam events this year by adding a fourth US Open in September to bring his tally to 21. He will then be only the second player in the Open era after Laver to win the calendar slam - while he already holds the record of winning all four majors twice alongwith Laver and Roy Emerson.
As an extra flourish, he also is chasing Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games, which would set him up to become the only man to achieve the ‘Golden Slam’ of winning all four majors and Olympic gold in singles in one year (Steffi Graf did so in 1988.)
“At this stage in my career, the Grand Slams are everything,” Djokovic said after wearing down Denis Shapovalov in straight but demanding sets in the semi-final late on Friday. “They are the four most important events in our sport. Only one match exists in a few days.”
Djokovic showed he was not willing to let his guard down in the final as he expects a “great battle” against Berrettini. Unlike his familiar foes in a grand slam final, the Serbian faces a new generation powerhouse this time - who bangs down serves at close to 140 mph and can be a credible threat to his hopes of drawing level with Federer and Nadal. “Anything is possible in the finals,” said Djokovic, who has won five of his previous six Wimbledon finals including in 2018 and 2019, “Obviously experience is on my side. But Berrettini has been winning a lot of matches on grasscourts this year, winning Queen’s. He’s in great form. He’s serving big, playing big,’’ he said.
This would be more a mechanism of steeling himself for the big occasion but Djokovic certainly carries the favourite’s tag with his experience and mental discipline in recent times. He summed it up aptly on Friday that he had been thrown in all kinds of situations that a tennis player can get into - including surprising animosity from the crowd - the biggest example of which came in his epic final against Federer in the epic 2019 final.
“I like to transmutate it in a way: When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’,” Djokovic had famously said after that win. This is how the Djoker has steeled himself for the ‘zone’ that he enters during a grand slam now - a challenge which will not be easy for the young Berrettini to overcome.