IT is 20 years since Goran Ivanisevic defeated Pat Rafter in one of the most incredible, tense, and unexpected Wimbledon finals in living memory.

Ivanisevic was a three-time losing finalist who was granted a wildcard in 2001. It was for sentimental value, really. He was about to turn 30, ranked 125 in the world and probably didn’t have many Wimbledons left in him.

But, he went on and won it. 

I remember watching the final on television. It was People’s Monday and the crowd was more like a football audience.

So much of the beauty of Ivanisevic’s victory was the unexpectedness of it.

It seems like a lifetime ago that we had finals like that, finals that no one saw coming.

The past decade-and-a-half in particular has seen men’s tennis become more predictable than it has ever been.

That’s not necessarily a criticism; there is just as much joy from watching the same players battle it out for the major titles as there is watching shock finalists.

But we no longer have surprise finalists. The big three have seen to that.

Of the past 69 majors, only 11 have been won by someone other than Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

And over the next fortnight, the odds are that stat will increase to 11 in the past 70 majors, with Djokovic the heavy favourite to successfully defend his title at the All England Club.

If he manages it, he will join Federer and Nadal on 20 Major titles apiece.

That is astonishing. It’s easy to forget just how remarkable this era of men’s tennis is.

But the next few months could well see one player establish
himself as the undisputed greatest ever.

Djokovic has already won the Australian Open and the French Open this season. He has made clear his goal is to claim the Wimbledon and US Open titles, as well as gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Only Steffi Graf has done the golden slam; winning all four majors plus the Olympics in one season.

Djokovic has the best chance to achieve this now. Nadal will be absent from Wimbledon and the Olympics as he attempts to allow his body to recuperate. And Federer, since having surgery last year, has not looked quite the same player as he did.

The next generation is getting closer, but they still trail the big three. So, we could well see Djokovic clean up this season.

That is, goes the view of many, incredibly boring. How can the sport remain interesting when we see the one man win title after title after title? 

It is, however, far more compelling watching someone achieve greatness than watch winners come and go with each season.

To sustain greatness in this way is infinitely more difficult than peaking, then quickly falling away.

I’d put my life savings on Djokovic levelling with Federer and Nadal on 20 Grand Slams this season, he could well overtake them. And if he wins Olympic gold, that will add another dimension.

The Serb is far from the most popular of the trio; some of that is beyond his control, some of it is self-inflicted. But whatever anyone’s view of him as an individual, it is impossible to overstate his greatness as an athlete. 

The coming weeks and months will, I predict, see him separate himself as a class apart. And we will never see an era like this again.


Few will have forgotten the spat Scotland’s best swimmer, Duncan Scott, and his Chinese counterpart, Sun Yang, had on the podium at the 2019 World Championships. Following Sun’s victory in the 200m freestyle, beating Scott into third place, the Briton made his feelings clear about the Chinese’s victory. 

At that time, Sun was in the midst of a doping case which had seen him tamper with an out-of-competition anti-doping test the previous year. This was his second brush with the anti-doping authorities following a three-month ban in 2014.

When Scott refused to shake the gold medallist’s hand and have his photo taken alongside him on the podium as is customary, Sun reacted angrily, shouting in Scott’s face: “You’re a loser, I’m a winner”.

It was a brave move from Scott to so publicly denounce someone who was permitted to compete but there were few within the sport who didn’t support the Stirling man’s stance. 

There is now, finally, the guarantee there will be no repeat in Tokyo.  Last week, Sun’s appeal of the suspension previously handed down was reduced from eight years to four years, but means he will still be banned from the Tokyo Olympics.

His absence is, of course, a good thing, and likely to be welcomed by Scott and many of his fellow competitors. But there is something frustrating, and depressingly familiar, about it taking almost three years for this case to come to a conclusion.

No one is disputing that all doping cases should be thoroughly examined but things cannot be allowed to drag on for years, as they have in Sun’s case.

Where is the clarity when month after month, there is no resolution?

The correct conclusion has been reached in Sun’s case, but in the future, similar cases must not be allowed to endure for such an extended period.