While sports entertainment is in many ways an afterthought amid the global pandemic, it also remains an important distraction—a source of escape in tough times.
Just think of all the sports fans who’ve whiled away part of their time in quarantine or lockdown by pondering sports figures and their places in history: Is Tiger Woods the greatest golfer ever to grace the links—or is it still Jack Nicklaus? Who’s the best driver ever to sit behind the wheel—Michael Schumacher or Mario Andretti?
Professional tennis may not have the largest global following when compared with European football (aka soccer), cricket or auto racing, but it deserves some special attention because the greatest era in the sport’s history is playing out right now.
The insanely high quality of play seen on court backs up that assertion, but it gets even more interesting because three players on tour are vying for the “Greatest of All Time,” or GOAT, designation: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
With such high stakes, the suspension of the global tennis tour for much of 2020 has altered each player’s chances of ending his career with the most major titles, like Grand Slams.
Federer is the all-time record holder with 20 total majors; however, Nadal is nipping closely at Federer’s heels with 19 majors and the added benefit of being five years younger. Djokovic, with 17 titles, also has a strong chance of claiming the GOAT designation.
Circling back to the pandemic, the end of May typically coincides with the conclusion of the French Open in Paris. In 12 of the past 15 years, Nadal has raised the winner’s trophy on the final Sunday—a record haul at a single major event.
Unfortunately for Nadal, the French Open wasn’t held because parts of the French economy were in lockdown. That means Nadal was denied the opportunity to equal Federer’s record at a venue where he would have been the prohibitive favorite.
The suspension of play in 2020 has therefore created the conditions by which Federer is receiving yet another award to help fill his trophy warehouse: Luckbox of the Month.
As it stands, the French Open has been rescheduled to begin Sept. 20, but it’s anyone’s guess whether that goal will be met. Furthermore, the weather in Paris during September tends to be cooler than in May or June, and historical data suggests Djokovic plays better on clay when the mercury drops—a big X factor if the tournament is actually held in the fall.
Moreover, the U.S. Open, played annually in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., is expected to be held as originally planned on Aug. 24. The event, which Nadal won in 2019, theoretically provides the Spaniard with an additional opportunity to notch his 20th Grand Slam title.
However, some of the top players in the sport, including Djokovic and Nadal, have already expressed reservations about attending the U.S. Open given the New York area was one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19. And a so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus is projected to hit the Northern Hemisphere this coming fall or winter.
In fact, Nadal said tennis should “wait a little bit more” before restarting, while Djokovic has called the player restrictions proposed for the U.S. Open “quite extreme.” Taken together, the likelihood of Nadal and Djokovic racking up additional Grand Slams in 2020 has been reduced substantially.
And while Federer has already announced he will sit out the rest of 2020 to heal a nagging knee injury, it’s almost certain he wasn’t that disappointed to hear that the French Open wouldn’t be played as scheduled. For that reason, Roger Federer is the unequivocal Luckbox of the Month.