Good things come to those who wait and that will certainly be Novak Djokovic’s mindset as he prepares to make his return to the ATP Tour.
After all that has gone on in Djokovic’s world over the last few months, the notion that he could be claiming the bragging rights as the greatest player of all-time at the end of this season seems hard to fathom.
Yet that could be the story playing out over the next few weeks as the blocks world No 1 Djokovic needs to assemble to cement his legacy at the top of the game are suddenly falling into place.
While some will suggest Djokovic’s legacy may always be tarnished by the circus he played a part in orchestrating as he was deported from Australia for his stance on Covid vaccines in January, what comes next could repair any lasting damage to his image.
History confirms that in the fickle world of sport, winners are forgiven for any indiscretions and while Djokovic may have given up hope of winning popularity contests with the world’s tennis fans, he has a big chance now to claim a much more important prize.
The tennis records Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have been chasing throughout their careers all have merit, with the most weeks at world No 1, the most Masters title wins and the chase for Olympic glory all measures that can be taken into account when assessing who should be viewed as the best of all-time.
However, the one statistic that really counts is the tally of who ends up with the Grand Slams and while Djokovic is second in that race behind Nadal for now, it could all change very soon.
With Covid restrictions loosening around the world, Djokovic appears to have a clear path to play in most events through to the end of Wimbledon, so he will get a chance to defend his titles at the French Open and the All England Club after that.
He returns at a moment when his two biggest rivals have been removed from his path, with Nadal and Daniil Medvedev facing time on the sidelines due to injury.
There is no imminent sign of Federer returning and while Carlos Alcaraz is emerging as a player who could challenge the game’s greats after his fine win at the Miami Open last week, the Spanish teenager has yet to prove he can deliver in Grand Slam events.
An uncertain performance as he stumbled to defeat against world No.123 Jiri Vesely in his only tournament of 2022 in Dubai in February suggested the Djokovic of old may need time to rise to the surface.
Yet if we see anything like peak Novak in Monte Carlo next week, the tennis world will be given a message that he means business.
As he has proved time and again in the majors over recent years, Djokovic is a tough nut to crack in the best of five-set format and by the time Wimbledon ends in the first week of July, the Grand Slam-winning table could conceivably look like this:
Djokovic – 22
Nadal – 21
Federer – 20
As the youngest of the trio, the Serb was always likely to have the best chance to finish with the most major titles and with Nadal and Federer running out time to add to their tally, Djokovic’s pain over the first quarter of 2022 could be about to be turned into the ultimate joy.