Fire still burning, Djokovic and GOAT debate move on to Paris

MELBOURNE (Reuters): A triumphant Novak Djokovic paraded the Australian Open trophy around the gardens of Melbourne’s Government House on Monday, his 10th title having added another notch in the plus column for those who argue he is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT).

That debate may never be settled but if it is to be decided purely in terms of major championship success, it now moves on to the French Open in the European spring with the Serbian and Rafael Nadal tied on 22 titles.

While the blue courts of Melbourne Park are undoubtedly Djokovic’s domain, the red clay courts of Roland Garros are the preserve of Spaniard Nadal, the other open-era GOAT contender along with 20-times Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

Federer is now retired and sent his congratulations to Djokovic on Instagram – “Incredible effort, again!” – but Nadal was back in Spain being treated for the latest in a series of injuries that have blighted his career.

The 36-year-old is confident he will recover from the hip flexor issue he sustained at the Australian Open in time to drag his battered body to Paris in May in a bid for a 15th French Open title.

And, despite a hamstring issue that hindered him throughout the year’s first Grand Slam, Djokovic left little doubt that he would also be there trying to win major number 23.

“I think there’s still a lot of that fire inside of me that is burning of passion for the sport and for competition and I think that’s what allows me to still push myself to the limit,” he said on Monday.

“In the practice sessions, day in, day out after so many years to go through the same routines, repetitively, that sometimes is not so interesting.

“But I know that there is always a greater goal and a guiding star, so to say, and this trophy is one of those guiding stars, it’s something that I always strive to achieve.”

While the resilience shown by Djokovic and Nadal means men’s tennis can continue to enjoy the back end of the most glittering of golden eras, women’s tennis continues with its first season trying to fill the void left by Serena Williams.

The American, when fit, dominated the women’s game for the best part of two decades while hoovering up 23 Grand Slam singles titles – a tally only bettered by Australian Margaret Court (24) mostly in the amateur era.

Even if Djokovic’s opposition to Covid-19 vaccines keeps him out of the US Open for a second year running, Sunday’s title put him firmly in touching distance of those tallies.

“I really don’t want to stop here,” he said after the final.

“I don’t have any intention of stopping here. I feel great about my tennis. I know that when I’m feeling good physically, mentally present, I have a chance to win any slam against anybody.

“I like my chances going forward.”