There is no benchmark for measuring who is the greatest tennis player of all time. The number of Grand Slam singles titles is often considered a good guide, but with Djokovic just two behind Federer and Nadal, it’s possible all three will end their careers on 20, or very close to each other.
This is where other factors could come in, and why Djokovic’s latest milestone is significant. With a player keeping ranking points for 52 weeks (in normal circumstances, it’s up to two years at present because of special Covid-related rules), rankings reflect consistency rather than brilliance on any one day. There are players who have won major titles but never got to the top of the rankings, and there are those who reach No 1 but never win a Slam. Yet no-one has yet spent six years at the top.
But that will be Djokovic’s next milestone. On 15 March he will become the first man to top the rankings for an aggregate of six years, a remarkable achievement in an era of so many all-time great players.
Djokovic played with a HEAD racket as a child. He switched to another maker in his early professional days, but came back to HEAD at the start of 2009, which means 17 of his 18 Grand Slam titles have been won with a HEAD racket.
At 33 years old and with only minor injuries since he needed elbow surgery in 2018, many in the tennis world expect Djokovic to continue winning majors and dominating the biggest tournaments. But a focus on winning more majors could jeopardise his chances of staying at the top of the rankings.
“I have to be smarter with my schedule and peak at the right time,” he said after the Australian Open. “I don't feel like I'm old or tired or anything like that. But I know that, biologically and realistically, things are different than they were 10 years ago. Obviously time away from the family is definitely something that has an impact on me, so from now I’m going to focus all my attention on Slams mostly.”
The record of 20 major titles remains within reach, but even with tweaks in his schedule, his No 1 position seems unthreatened, and is likely to remain so for the next few months.