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Why nothing will stand between Novak Djokovic and a Calendar Slam

theScore logo theScore 27-06-2016

The view's got to be majestic from where Novak Djokovic is sitting right now. As he kicks off his title defense at Wimbledon, the world No. 1 is halfway to completing the first calendar Grand Slam men's tennis has seen in nearly a half-century, and two-fifths of the way to an achievement the sport hasn't seen, period.

Djokovic is, as of this writing, the reigning champion at all four majors - the first man to do that since Rod Laver completed the aforementioned Calendar Slam in 1969 - and should he win at the All England Club (as most expect him to), he'll be the first man in the Open era to win five straight Slams. And what could make this season all the more singularly special for Djokovic is that it's happening in an Olympic year, giving him the opportunity to capture the sport's first-ever Calendar Golden Slam.

All that may yet seem a long way off - with Wimbledon and Rio and the US Open still standing between him and immortality - but there's little evidence to suggest he won't ultimately get there.

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The fact is Djokovic has no real rivals left. The last man who showed the ability to consistently beat him in a best-of-five match was Rafa Nadal, and Nadal, on top of being injured right now, is simply not what he was. Djokovic has owned him for two solid years, winning seven straight head-to-heads and 15 straight sets. Andy Murray is an exceptional player who's had the misfortune of peaking at the same time as Djokovic. The two play a nearly identical game, only Murray's slightly worse at everything. Djokovic has beaten him in 13 of their last 15 meetings, including all five Grand Slam matches. 

He's had only slightly less luck against Roger Federer, winning six of their last eight matches overall, and four straight at Slams. Federer hasn't beaten Djokovic in a best-of-five since 2012. Wimbledon is the tournament that gives him the best chance to do that, and Federer's coming into Wimbledon looking rustier than an unloved Buick, on the heels of an uncharacteristically long layoff due to back and knee injuries. Djokovic has reduced the once-proud Big Four to a coterie of hapless men doddering after their former peer's shadow, wondering how they got left so far behind.

Nor does Djokovic have to look over his shoulder. There's nobody coming up behind him; no upstart challenging his reign, no new-order youngster come to change the rules, no usurper lurking in the weeds. Only two players younger than him (Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro) have even won a major, and neither has won a Masters tournament or tour final. The generation that was initially supposed to succeed his has been a letdown, and the one that followed is still a couple years away from mounting a challenge.

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So, to recap: The guys older than Djokovic can't keep up anymore, the guys younger than him can't keep up yet (if they ever will), and his one would-be rival who's the same age can't find a single advantage on the court. He's made mincemeat of the rest of the world's elite, going 16-1 against top-10 opponents after winning an all-time record 29 such matches last year. And he just cleared his only remaining psychological hurdle by finally capturing the French Open, the major that had eluded him until three weeks ago. He rules on every surface. He wins in every which way. For now, the tour fits snugly in the palm of Djokovic's hand. 

Perhaps the most important thing this Calendar Slam chase gives him is a clearly defined purpose, something habitual dominance can perhaps sand the edges off after a time. Djokovic has a clear goal and the means to achieve it, and he is bloody motivated. All the winning has seemingly only made him hungrier for more winning, compounding the rate at which he wins.

Djokovic is on a mission, and when you're on a mission, it helps to hold a significant mental and physical edge on all those who'd seek to prevent you from completing it.

When it comes to tennis' most hallowed feat, only Djokovic stands in Djokovic's way.

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