“But Novak is certainly heading in that direction. You can’t dispute the facts. He is winning those big matches.”
Wimbledon champion Pat Cash doesn’t like the constant discussion about which one of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic has the best claims on being the undisputed greatest of all time.
He argues each era is unique, the technology vastly different and courts are almost unrecognisable from decade to decade.
But he does believe the player who stands at the top of the tennis tree when the current ‘Big Three’ hang up their racquets must have had a head-to-head advantage over one another.
If that’s how the greatest of all time tag will be decided, it’s advantage Djokovic.
He boasts a 3-1 head-to-head advantage against Federer at Wimbledon, and all three of those wins have come in finals.
And Djokovic has a 2-1 head-to-head record against Nadal. But the reason he has been able to exploit that advantage – on a surface he struggled to master early in his career – is fascinating.
“Head-to-heads are significant. If you want to throw in who the greatest player of all time is, you have to have a winning head to head record against your other peers,” Cash told the Herald from the UK.
“Overall, (as) a player who can do everything, Federer certainly has to be up there.
“Nadal, of course, was a very good volley-er and he was able to use that extremely well. Not in the later years because his tactics were never going to trouble Federer.
“But Novak’s returning, serving and ground strokes on the slower grass courts that we have these days, to me, it feels like a bit of a pity that the courts have slowed down so much. Or the balls have slowed down, I should say.
“The courts are so good that they don’t give any real advantage to the serve and volley anymore. The return is like playing on hard court and we know how good Novak is on hard court. It’s not a huge difference in style anymore, if at all.”
While Djokovic’s rise to the top of tennis now appears inevitable, Federer, 39, will begin his quest for a ninth Wimbledon title against French world No. 42 Adrian Mannarino on Tuesday.
It may well be the final time Federer is part of the heightened anticipation that comes with his presence in London.
Knee injuries have plagued the 20-time grand slam champion for the last 18 months. So much so that Federer withdrew from the French Open after three rounds to ensure he would be as close to full fitness as possible at the major he is best placed to claim a 21st title.
But even if Federer fails to fire another shot at Wimbledon, Cash believes his legacy is unrivalled.
“I think he certainly transformed tennis. He brought it to another level in the modern era. He showed players could play at the back of the court and be equally as good at the net and around the net,” Cash said.
“His movement was phenomenal and I think he certainly brought an element of style and flashiness and the shots he could produce – it’s the best of what we seen from the Bjorg and Connors at the baseline and McEnroe, Edberg, Sampras, those types of volleys.
“He has very good claims to being the best, most all-round player that’s ever played at Wimbledon.”