How Long Before Djokovic Becomes the Greatest Hard Courter in History?

I think it’s been evident for some time now that Djokovic will surpass Federer as the greatest hard court player in history. Here is how they both performed on hard court so far:

  • Djokovic
  • Grand slam titles – 8(6 Australian Open and 2 US Open)
  • Grand slam finals – 13(6 Australian Open and 7 US Open)
  • World Tour Finals titles – 5
  • Masters Series titles – 22
  • Total hard-court titles – 50
  • Federer
  • Grand slam titles – 9(4 Australian Open and 5 US Open)
  • Grand slam finals – 12(5 Australian Open and 7 US Open)
  • World Tour Finals titles – 6
  • Masters Series titles – 18
  • Total hard-court titles – 60
  • Head-to-head on hard court: 17 – 17(3-1 Djokovic at the Australian Open and 3-3 at the US Open)

Given what a phenomenal hard court player Federer is, it is hard to believe Djokovic is well on his way to surpassing Federer. After the incredible numbers Federer racked up on hard court I don’t think there was anyone who imagined it would soon be bettered.

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But that is exactly what Djokovic is currently doing. By making the 2016 US Open final he has surpassed Federer in grand slam finals reached on hard court and it is just a question of time before the same thing happens for grand slam titles on hard court.

The grand slam titles are always the most important measure of greatness but it should never be the only one. All the other categories I listed are important. Djokovic is already well ahead in Masters titles and you would think it is just a question of time before he at least equals Federer in World Tour Finals titles.

It is highly likely that he will surpass Federer in total hard court titles won too. Most likely he will surpass Federer or at least equal him in all the categories. It is also very likely that he will lead the head-to-head on hard court when all is said and done.

For now, Federer is still ahead because he has won more grand slams, more World Tour Finals, and more overall titles on hard. But if Djokovic wins the World Tour Finals this year and the Australian Open next year he will take the lead.

  • The Slow vs Fast Hard Court Argument of Federer Fans

Djokovic’s recent US Open final loss meant that he fell to 2-5 in US Open finals. This appears to be worse than 2-4, but it’s not. It’s most definitely better.

If you don’t understand that statement then ask yourself this simple question: Is it better to make a grand slam final or lose before the final?

The answer is self-evident. You won’t be able to show me a single professional tennis player who would say they would rather lose before the final if they knew they were going to lose in the final. And if you could, then that player is not worthy of the title ‘professional tennis player’.

Grand slam finals are the biggest matches in our sport and not a single player don’t want to be involved in them, win or lose.

So while Djokovic has a relatively poor strike rate in US Open finals, making the US Open final this year improved his resume as a hard court player. That is the first point I want to make.

The second point relates to the argument that Federer won a more even spread of hard court slams than Djokovic. First of all, Federer won only one hard court slam on Plexicushion. Three of the four Australian Opens he won were on Rebound Ace, which according to this classification is even faster than the Decoturf of the US Open.

This means Federer’s hard court slams are even more skewed than Djokovic’s(8 on fast hard and 1 on slow hard as opposed to 2 on fast hard and 6 on slow hard for Djokovic).

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  Roger Federer of Switzerland follows through in his second round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine during day three of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Not that it matters. Whether it is fast or slow it is still hard court. It is one thing to make a distinction between greatness on fast and slow hard court but it is another thing altogether to act as if fast or slow hard courts are not still hard court. That just sounds like bias and desperation.

We are not talking about Nadal who won 9/14 slams on one surface, and we don’t make a distinction between fast and slow clay, do we? Moreover, Djokovic has not fared poorly at the US Open, has he?

He won two titles and made five more finals. That is better than Federer did at the French Open, for instance, where he won one title and made four more finals. Again, it’s not like Djokovic can’t play on faster surfaces.

He’s won three Wimbledon titles for instance. I think it is really just a case of Fedfans coming to the realization that Djokovic will inevitably surpass their hero as the greatest hard court player in history and them looking for excuses.

Don’t worry Fedfans, if making a final is better than losing before the final then it means Federer is greater than Sampras on grass and therefore the greatest on grass!

  • Why It Makes Sense for Djokovic to be the Greatest on Hard

What is it about Djokovic’s game that makes him catch up with Federer on hard court so fast? Hard court is the ‘in between’ surface when you compare it to grass and hard. On grass, offensive tennis dominates while on clay defensive tennis dominates.

As far as I’m concerned Federer is the greatest offensive player ever while Nadal is the greatest defensive player ever which is why it is not surprising that they are also the greatest grass and clay court exponents ever.

The greatest hard court player is the one who can play offensive and defensive tennis equally well. He must be the most flexible and adaptable. This is where Djokovic is so good. He is a genius at adapting to the situation and opponent.

Hard courts are probably the true test of greatness in tennis because it is not like grass or clay where you can get away with the best offense or the best defense. You have to adapt to the opponent and there is nowhere to hide.

Federer can dominate grass because he has some of the most devastating weapons in his arsenal including his serve, forehand, and volleys. Nadal can dominate clay because he has equally devastating defensive qualities including physical fitness and those cyclonic topspin forehands.

But they both have their limitations on slow and fast courts. Federer’s weaker backhand side have been exposed on slow courts by the likes of Nadal and Djokovic from the baseline while Nadal has never won a World Tour Finals title for instance.

ao-novak-djokovic-1

Djokovic doesn’t have that problem. He has won five World Tour Finals titles himself as well as two US Open titles and three Wimbledon titles. When he plays against Federer he assumes the defensive role and when he plays against Nadal he assumes the offensive role.

He can’t be exposed because he can adapt. This is why for me hard courts are the true test. Djokovic may not be as talented as Federer or as much of a physical/mental force as Nadal, but being flexible is even more important.

And I don’t mean just physically. He is flexible mentally because he can adapt his tactics according to the situation and opponent. And he can do that because he is continually improving on an already very complete game.

There are no chinks in the armor. Not in the mental, physical, or technical armor. An impenetrable fortress, but an intelligent and evolving fortress. The makings of a true hard court GOAT.

What do you think? How long will it be before Djokovic surpasses Federer as the greatest hard courter in history? 2017? 2018? Never?

Which surface is the true test of greatness in tennis?

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