Ivan Lendl hopes that Novak Djokovic’s absence from Grand Slam tournaments due to his vaccination status does not decide the debate about the greatest male tennis player of all time.
Djokovic appears likely to miss the US Open having elected not to get the Covid vaccine, and was similarly absent from the Australian Open at the start of the year.
In his absence, Rafael Nadal moved on to 21 Grand Slam singles title with his second crown in Melbourne, further extending his record tally with a remarkable 14th triumph at Roland-Garros.
He now again sits only one ahead of Djokovic after the Serb’s Wimbledon win.
While agreeing that an ageing and increasingly injury-plagued Roger Federer faces a tough ask to fight his way back into the debate, Lendl believes that the so-called “GOAT” can only be declared once the three men have concluded their careers.
But Lendl also fears that Djokovic’s recent exclusions from majors may lead to Nadal facing tough questions over how the players’ records would stack up had Djokovic been able to play every Grand Slam.
“That story is not over yet,” Lendl told Croatian channel Nova TV. “It will be finished when all three say goodbye.
“At the moment, Roger seems to be out of it, because he hasn’t played for a long time and he is the oldest. It is fascinating to watch and follow, not only for people from the tennis world, but for everyone else, spectators, fans.
“The only thing I regret a little bit is that the fight is somehow affected by politics at the moment because of the vaccination issue. I only hope that in 20 years we won’t look at it through that prism, that we won’t be sure who is the greatest because of politics.
“IF NOVAK WINS THE MOST GRAND SLAMS DESPITE THAT, I THINK WE WILL HAVE AN ANSWER.
“If Rafa wins one more title, I think he will have to answer the question about the vaccination and the fact that Novak could not play. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
The trio started the year level on 20 Grand Slam single titles, six more than any other man in history.
Either Djokovic or Nadal could yet draw level with, or surpass, Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.
While wishing not to pick sides in the debate, Lendl does hope that one man establishes numerical supremacy.
“I’d actually like to see someone have a two, three, four title advantage at the top,” the Czech, who won eight major singles titles, explained.
“I don’t care who it is, I don’t have a favourite.
“Just for the sake of answering that question, to be clear, and not to say ‘if this man could play, maybe it would be different, your record is not that good’. That is not fair”.