Djokovic Approaches Federer And Nadal's Record With French Open Win
June 14, 2021
June 12, 2021
With all due respect to Novak Djokovic, the result of Friday’s French Open semifinal seemed preordained. After all, Rafael Nadal had won four titles in a row at Roland Garros, and 13 in all. He’d lost only two matches in his 17-year history at the tournament.
It was Djokovic, however, who had handed him the most recent of those defeats, in 2015, and the Serbian superstar conjured some more magic to advance to Sunday’s final with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory. The result leaves Nadal stuck in a tie with Roger Federer for the record for Grand Slam singles titles, with 20; Djokovic will have an opportunity to close his gap to just one when he squares off with Stefanos Tsitsipas this weekend.
While it came a round earlier than fans might have liked, Friday’s match represents a monumental win for Djokovic, who has sometimes been excluded from the discussion about tennis’ greatest player of all-time. A 19th Grand Slam title, and a second at Roland Garros, would surely reshape the debate.
How does Djokovic stack up against Nadal and Federer? Here is a breakdown of their numbers on and off the court.
Djokovic owns the record for career prize money, with $148 million across singles and doubles entering the French Open, ahead of Federer ($130 million) and Nadal ($124 million). Only one other men’s player in history has made even $45 million in prize money: Andy Murray, with $62 million. (Serena Williams, who has her own claim to the title of tennis’ GOAT, has collected $94 million in prize money.)
Djokovic sits on top this year, too, with $2.4 million in prize money entering the French Open, and he can add $1.7 million to that total with a victory on Sunday. Nadal, meanwhile, had made $997,268 in prize money this year and will receive another $456,000 for his semifinal loss; Federer, who has sat out most of the season with a knee injury, has taken in just $45,989.
Federer has been the world’s highest-paid tennis player for 16 straight years, and prize money is almost an afterthought in that equation. He has made nearly $1 billion in pretax gross earnings since turning pro in 1998, Forbes estimates.
That total includes the $90 million—virtually all of it from endorsements—that landed Federer at No. 7 on this year’s list of the world’s highest-paid athletes and the $106 million last year that made him the first tennis player to top the Forbes athletes ranking since its debut in 1990. Federer has an unmatched endorsement portfolio, featuring brands like Rolex and Credit Suisse alongside Uniqlo, which signed him to a ten-year, $300 million endorsement deal in 2018. He has another payday on the horizon, too: He owns an equity stake in Swiss athletic apparel company On, which is reportedly planning to go public this fall.
While Nadal, who turned pro three years after Federer, has earned a comparable amount in prize money, he has made roughly half as much across his career, by Forbes’ count, including endorsements and appearances. Still, Nadal is no slouch as a pitchman, earning well over $20 million off the court in each of the last two years from a sponsor stable that includes Nike, Santander Bank and Richard Mille watches.
Djokovic came in at No. 46 on this year’s list of the highest-paid athletes with $34.5 million total—$30 million off the court—after recently partnering with Raiffeisen Bank and Lemero printer cartridges. Djokovic, who turned pro in 2003, has made up ground on Nadal, outpacing him off the court in each of the last three years, but he got off to a slower start. In 2011, for instance, when Djokovic looked virtually unbeatable, he was collecting about $7 million in endorsements and appearances; Nadal was at roughly $21 million for the same period.
Nadal and Federer are tied for the all-time lead with 20 Grand Slam titles, with Djokovic close behind with 18 ahead of Sunday’s final. Nadal also has a slight edge in his match-winning percentage at majors—87.7% through Friday, versus 87.2% for Djokovic and 86% for Federer. But Grand Slams are not the only way to measure their success.
The 39-year-old Federer leads the three in career ATP Tour singles titles with a second-best-ever 103, ahead of the 35-year-old Nadal (88) and the 34-year-old Djokovic (83), and in total match wins (1,243 to Nadal’s 1,027 and Djokovic’s 960 through Friday). Federer also narrowly bests Djokovic in match-winning percentage on grass (87.4% vs. 84.1%) and on hardcourts (83.5% vs. 84.3%), with Nadal (78% and 77.9%) lagging behind them—but unsurprisingly crushing his rivals on clay (91.5% even after Friday’s loss, vs. Djokovic’s 80.4% and Federer’s 75.9%).
Djokovic and Nadal share the top spot in men’s tennis with 36 titles at Masters 1000 events, a series that has been held since 1990 and is considered the sport’s most prestigious set of tournaments outside the Grand Slams. Federer ranks third with 28, still well ahead of fourth-place Andre Agassi and his 17.
Djokovic has the advantage with his current ranking (No. 1, ahead of the No. 3 Nadal and the No. 8 Federer) and with his rankings history, having spent a record 324 weeks at No. 1. Federer was the previous record holder with 310 weeks in the top spot; Nadal is a distant sixth on the career chart at 209 weeks, behind Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors. Djokovic and Federer each own another rankings record: Djokovic is tied with Sampras with six year-end finishes at No. 1, and Federer spent 237 straight weeks at No. 1, from 2004 to 2008.
Still, for many tennis fans, it all comes down to the majors. All three players have won each Grand Slam event at least once, with Federer having the most success at Wimbledon (eight titles) and Djokovic at the Australian Open (nine titles, including this year’s). Neither has dominated a tournament quite like Nadal with the French Open: He won in his first appearance in 2005 and had triumphed all but three times since. He was upset by Robin Söderling in the fourth round in 2009, lost to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals and withdrew in 2016 before his third-round match because of a wrist injury. It’s no shock, then, that Federer and Djokovic have each won Roland Garros only once—although Djokovic has a prime opportunity to improve on that number against the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas.
Federer last won a major in 2018, at the Australian Open. Since then, Nadal has won four; Djokovic has captured six out of a possible 11, with a chance to make it seven out of 12 this weekend.
Djokovic has the advantage against both Federer (27-23) and Nadal (30-28 with Friday’s win). Nadal has gone 24-16 against Federer, including a 14-2 record on clay.
Djokovic has fared better than Federer on Nadal’s favorite surface, going 8-19 against him on clay and using Friday’s match to avenge his loss in the 2020 French Open final. On other surfaces, Djokovic has a 22-9 lead.
So who’s tennis’ GOAT? It’s a close call from wherever you stand, but Djokovic has a grand opportunity to help his case Sunday.
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