Exclusive – Roger Federer will always win the popularity battle, but Novak Djokovic will get a bigger prize

Kevin Palmer
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic match

Tim Henman believes Novak Djokovic’s will always lose out in a battle to Roger Federer in a popularity contest, but he is convinced the Serbian will win the biggest prize of them all in tennis.

Djokovic will secure himself a place in tennis folklore if he becomes the second player in Open Era – after Rod Laver in 1969 – to win all four major titles in the same year by adding the US Open crown to the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles he has already won in 2021.

Now Henman is convinced the Serbian will add the final piece of the Grand Slam jigsaw to his collection and move ahead of his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the chase to be recognised as the greatest player in tennis history. 

While he suspects he may never usurp Federer as the most popular player among the game’s global fanbase, he suggests the title of the greatest player of all time will be his.

“There are two different conversations to be had about the greatest player, the best player, that comes down to a numbers game and Djokovic will win that,” Henman told Tennis365 at a Prime Video event.

Tim Henman on Amazon Prime Video

“If you are talking about impact and popularity, it is a one-horse race and there is no doubt that Federer is the most popular player that has ever played our sport.

“But you have to say if Novak goes to 21 and Federer and [Rafael] Nadal are on 20, you would have to say Djokovic is leading that debate over who is the greatest, but throw in a Calendar Grand Slam and it would elevate him to a different level. He would then be the best male player of all time.”

The chase for history will weigh heavily on Djokovic’s shoulders in the final major of 2021, as Henman believes the Calendar Grand Slam will end the debate over who can be considered the greatest between Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.

“It just emphasises how much is on the line for Djokovic and what a win in this US Open could mean,” he added.

“Those three have transcended the sport and they are not just attracting tennis fans, they have gone beyond that. It’s not just Novak against the field next week. It’s Novak against the field and history. To have won the first three Slams in the year is incredible.

“Federer won three out of four Slams in the year on three occasions, but the French Open was the one that got in the way because Rafa was too good.

“Now there is so much on the like for Novak and for me, the meltdowns he has had at the US Open last year and at the Olympics a few weeks ago might help him now. He has got them out of his system now.
“That will focus his mind even more and I really feel the stars are aligning for Djokovic and he is going to be incredibly tough to beat in three out of five-set matches. It’s great for the game that we have got the opportunity.”

The US Open is available to watch on Prime Video from Monday 30th August

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