The grand slams are the biggest events in tennis that come around only four times in a year which is why I always make one post to look back at what transpired over the past fortnight and look at how it affected the tennis landscape.
The 2017 Australian Open obviously had great significance because of the fact that Federer, at last, bagged that elusive 18th slam title which put him further ahead of the field in the GOAT debate.
When Djokovic was going through the most dominant run in tennis history from the beginning of 2015 to the French Open in 2016 I had in the back of my mind the idea that at some point there must be some kind of response from Federer.
I am particularly referring to Djokovic completing the personal slam at the French Open. That was something Federer could never achieve and on top of that he had lost four very significant slam matches against Djokovic since 2014.
Djokovic was not only fast closing the gap between him and Federer in terms of the most important records but he was now also dominating the head-to-head. Federer had to do something fast but couldn’t cash in on Djokovic’s early loss at Wimbledon last year or on Djokovic’s slump which continued after that due to Federer’s own injury.
Along came 2017 and Djokovic was starting to gain momentum again. And besides, no one was seriously considering Federer as an Australian Open favorite after a six-month layoff. And it was after all Djokovic’s best slam.
- How the Court Speed Made the Difference
The court speed this year in Melbourne is not something I wrote about much during my coverage but it was on my mind and I think it is the critical issue that caused this to be the Australian Open of great upsets.
As you can see, Rod Laver Arena is now one of the fastest surfaces on tour. Therefore, it is no wonder that Federer won and defeated his nemesis in the final at that. Of course, it took a tremendous effort from Federer and the court speed doesn’t take anything away from his victory, but it does explain why this was such a strange Australian Open.
It also shows us how boring tennis could have become if they didn’t slow down court speeds in recent times. Federer may have won something like 25 slams by now and dominated for even longer which would have been awfully boring.
I’m also certain of the fact that Djokovic’s loss was caused by the considerably faster courts this year. As a Djokovic fan, it is a tough thing to accept, especially since he was just about back to his peak level again after defeating Murray in Doha.
It was a big blow for him because it came at a crucial time where he needed to make a stand at his best slam after letting things slip since Wimbledon. It shows you how much court speeds and the decisions of tournament organizers can affect things.
It can literally be a determining factor in the GOAT debate. Had the surface speed been the same as last year Djokovic probably would have defeated Istomin and won the tournament. He has only lost once in the last six years on that surface.
The faster courts just give him that little less time to reach balls and make defensive plays which can make a huge difference in the outcome of a match. I saw it very clearly in the Fedal final as well.
Nadal made way fewer of those ridiculous defensive plays than he did in the 2009 final and he constantly looked rushed. I thought he could have been more aggressive at times but Federer and the courts made that hard.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Nadal would have won had the court speed been the same as last year. But then neither Federer nor Nadal would have made the final. It is way more likely that Djokovic and Murray would have been in the final.
Murray’s loss to Zverev is another dead giveaway that the court speed was drastically different. A serve-and-volley player in the quarters of the Australian Open? Are you kidding me? And that after defeating the world number one?
But even as a Djokovic fan it is hard to feel bitter about the drastic change in court speed because of the way in which court speeds have been slowed down on tour in recent years. It is not conducive to Federer’s attacking game style and he has suffered many brutal losses because of it.
- What Does It All Mean for the GOAT Debate?
Yes, the change in court speed in Melbourne this year could have had a big effect on the outcome of the GOAT debate. After his Australian Open title, many people are now proclaiming Federer as the undisputed GOAT.
He had won the elusive 18th slam and defeated his nemesis in the process. It is hard to argue with their logic. Personally, I think it is a great story and great for tennis. I am celebrating with Fedfans; not as a Fedfan but as a tennis fan.
That said the GOAT debate is something very subjective. There are so many factors to consider like the court speeds I just mentioned, the era players play in, how they fared against their biggest rivals, the records that they broke, and many other things.
That’s why I find it easier to divide players into tiers and I have already said my top tier consists of Laver, Federer, and Djokovic(I would have added Nadal if he won the Australian Open). They all did amazing things. Laver won the calendar slam, Federer won his 18th slam at age 35, and Djokovic had the most dominant run in history when he won the personal slam and he reached the highest level of tennis ever in my opinion during that time.
And Djokovic is far from done. I thought he may have some serious personal problems and that he lost his drive after the Australian Open loss, but after having time to digest it I realized it was simply the court speed.
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) January 29, 2017
The Djokovic I got to know during 2015 and 2016 when he was dominating was one of the most driven and ambitious individuals I have ever encountered. I was certain he would become the GOAT with that level of ambition and drive.
Then I started thinking he has marriage problems and that he changed but I don’t think you just lose that level of ambition that easily. He was already at his best level again in London and Doha this year.
He just got unlucky with the changed court speed at the Australian Open. I don’t think it is a question of motivation. Djokovic will be back. Soon it will be Indian Wells and Miami where he is almost unbeatable and then the clay season where he can make up for what happened in Melbourne.
Since Nadal could not complete the double career slam in Melbourne this gives him the opportunity now to become the only big four member to do so. The GOAT debate is certainly not just about how may slams you win.
I know this is the popular view but it is definitely not true. Laver won only 11 slams but he is considered by many to be the GOAT. That is because he won the calendar slam. These things matter.
So does the Djoker slam and so would the double career slam. There is a reason Federer or Nadal have never achieved these things. They are incredibly hard to do!
- In Conclusion
I don’t necessarily think Federer has the GOAT title wrapped up. He may have it wrapped up for the time being but he is closer to retirement than Djokovic. Djokovic recently said that he plans on being around for a long time(until he is 40).
The GOAT debate is very subjective anyway and despite this one big win over Nadal, it doesn’t do much to change the overall head-to-head of 1-3 at the Australian Open, 3-9 in slams, and 12-23 overall.
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) January 21, 2017
It also doesn’t change his 1-3 head-to-head with Djokovic in slam finals or the overall head-to-head which is in Djokovic’s favor. Djokovic isn’t done. Neither is Federer or Nadal. I think it would be boring and unfair to close the GOAT debate now.
What happened in Melbourne was a big setback for Djokovic but may well cause him to work even harder than he did of late and make him sacrifice everything to win the French Open again this year.
We will just have to see. But I don’t think the GOAT debate is over and I’m still very interested to see what happens next!