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Wimbledon 2021: Novak Djokovic has a 20th Grand Slam singles title in his sights

Novak Djokovic has claimed seven of the last 11 men's Grand Slam singles titles and could overtake his great rivals in the all-time stakes by the end of the year - first stop Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic knows a successful defence of the Wimbledon title he won in 2019 will draw him level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (Photo by: Frank Molter/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Two years on from a Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer five-set epic, the two are once again the major protagonists at Wimbledon as the Championships return following a one-year absence. However it is the Serbian world No 1 that now looks the sport's unstoppable force.

Djokovic will raise the curtain on the show courts at Wimbledon when he faces British teenager Jack Draper on Centre Court on Monday.

He will do so with the first two majors of the year safely tucked away. A ninth Australian Open title and a second French Open crown have put him within one of Federer and Rafa Nadal's men's all-time record haul of 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

"Winning the two majors this year, playing very well in Roland Garros, that tournament took a lot out of me I think mentally and physically and emotionally," Djokovic told the media on Saturday.

"It also granted me with an incredible amount of positive energy and confidence that created a wave that I'm trying to ride.

"I didn't have too much time really to reflect on what has happened in Paris. That's how it is. That's the tennis season and tennis schedule."

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Serena Williams' coach Patrick Mouratoglou discusses Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer chances at Wimbledon.

Men's Grand Slam Singles Titles - All-time

20 Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal
19 Novak Djokovic
14 Pete Sampras
12 Roy Emerson

Nadal will not be in attendance this year, having opted against the trip to London as well as the Tokyo Olympics next month. And Federer has just a handful of victories under his belt as he has made the most tentative of returns following two knee surgeries.

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When Federer won Grand Slam title number 20 in Melbourne in January 2018, the GOAT (greatest of all-time) debate looked to be all but over.

Nadal was on 16 Grand Slam titles and Djokovic was on 12 and in the middle of his longest barren spell since the gap between his first and second major titles.

The Serb looked like he might have peaked after a maiden French Open that gave him a career Grand Slam but also left him shorn of a purpose.

However since that Federer title in Australia, Nadal and Djokovic have won 11 of the last 12 Grand Slam titles (Djokovic 7, Nadal 4), Federer has missed four majors and reached just one more final.

Roger Federer's last major Grand Slam title was more than three years ago at the Australian Open - (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
Image: Roger Federer's last major Grand Slam title was more than three years ago at the Australian Open

Nadal caught the Swiss great when he won a 13th French Open in October and Djokovic, a career reborn, stands closer than he has ever been to the pair of them.

With 19 Grand Slam titles to his name after his Paris success, he is the odds on favourite to triumph at the end of the next fortnight. That GOAT debate now appears to be not if but when Djokovic passes them both - and it could well happen before the year is out.

"There is always something on the line I feel like for me, probably Roger and Rafa as well, when it comes to the tennis history in the last couple of years," he said.

"We've been very successful, particularly in slams. I understand that people love to debate who is the greatest, who is going to have the most titles, et cetera, et cetera.

"There's always a lot going on I think off the tennis court but once I'm on the court, I try to lock in and I try to exclude all the distractions.

"I feel like over the years I managed to develop the mechanism that allows me to do that. Everyone has their own special ways how to centre themselves, how to focus themselves, really direct, so to say, the energy in what matters the most, which is the present moment."

After victory at the French Open Djokovic, for only the second time, is halfway to a calendar year grand slam - one of the very few feats to elude him.

The last time he won in Paris, a very rapid fall from grace followed; he was beaten in the third round at Wimbledon by Sam Querrey, lost his world no 1 ranking and looked to have stalled in the chase of his great rivals.

He has rebuilt his confidence and his game, the serve has improved and he is retuning as well as he has ever served. After returning to the Grand Slam winners circle at the US Open in 2018 he's won seven of the last 10 majors and is the undoubted best player in the world at the moment.

A first Olympic gold medal could also be on the cards, no decision has been made on Tokyo but with Nadal not competing, Federer undecided and two-time defending Olympic champion Andy Murray currently a shadow of himself, it might add yet another layer to his claim to be the best the sport has produced.

A sixth Wimbledon title seems inevitable, particularly given the novelty of the grass surface they play on. For a few fleeting weeks each year, big servers and grass-court specialists hope for a chance of glory in south west London, and after the absence of any play on the surface last year, there are just a couple of weeks' form to go on.

Whether anyone has what it takes to challenge Djokovic remains to be seen. World No 2 Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas - the leaders of the next tier of players - have been vanquished by Djokovic in this year's major finals and his draw looks favourable.

After 19-year-old Draper on opening Monday, former finalist Kevin Anderson looks about as tricky an opponent as he could face on route to the last 16. Gael Monfils and Andrey Rublev are both relatively unproven on grass and are the seeded opponents for the fourth round and quarter-finals.

A rematch with Tsitsipas, whom he rallied from two sets down to beat in Paris, looks like the most likely semi-final, with Federer, Alexander Zverev or Medvedev the big names in the bottom half who will harbour hopes.

With doubts around almost everyone else, Djokovic is full of confidence and rightly so.

Novak Djokovic is halfway towards a calendar year Grand Slam after claiming Grand Slam number 19 in Paris - will he lift number 20 at Wimbledon? (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: Novak Djokovic is halfway towards a calendar year Grand Slam after claiming Grand Slam number 19 in Paris - will he lift number 20 at Wimbledon? (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Career prize money, Masters Series title, weeks at no1 - Djokovic heads them all but the one he craves most of all is now looming large and is primary focus. His career is geared towards major victories.

"Grand Slams are the biggest motivation I have right now at this stage of my career," he told Saturday's media conference.

"I've been saying that before. I want to try to make the most out of Grand Slams as I possibly can. I'm trying to peak at the majors. I've been managing to do that throughout my career.

"I've had fortune to really play my best tennis when it mattered the most I think. Nowadays I have to adjust my schedule a bit more with obviously the quality time with family that means a lot to me, reducing the number of tournaments, trying to adjust everything so that I could be at my top level on slams.

"That's how my last year and a half looked like, and that's how probably the rest of my career will look like in terms of scheduling the tournaments."

Not that he needs it but they'll be an extra bounce before the serve, some extra venom in the much improved serve and a bit more juice in those biting returns - this Wimbledon, this Grand Slam really does look like it will mean more.

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