Can Novak Djokovic Complete The Calendar Slam In 2023?

Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the Australian Open.

The door has finally been opened. Can Novak Djokovic stride through it to tennis immortality? The decision this week by the US Government to end all emergency Covid restrictions, including the ban on non-vaccinated people entering the country, by the end of May has removed arguably the biggest obstacle to Djokovic attempting, let alone winning, a Calendar Slam in 2023.

Djokovic, of course, was unable to compete at the US Open last year because of his refusal to get vaccinated. Now, however, he will be able to compete at Flushing Meadows this summer. After his relatively routine triumph at the Australian Open last weekend, Djokovic has set himself up for another all-out assault on the Majors this year.

Two years ago, he came close to matching Don Budge and Rod Laver by winning all four Grand Slam Men’s Singles events in one year, only to fall at literally the final hurdle, when he lost the US Open Final to Daniil Medvedev. Can he go one better this year and achieve the Holy Grail of men’s tennis, something that so far none of the Big Three has been able to complete?

Here’s a look ahead to how he might fare at the remaining Majors in 2023.

The French Open

On the surface, which in Paris is obviously clay, winning the French Open would appear to be the biggest hurdle for Djokovic to overcome if he is to win the Calendar Slam. In May, Rafael Nadal, the reigning French Open Champion, will be going for a truly remarkable 15th title at Roland Garros. Consequently, he is not just the King of Clay but its All-Conquering Emperor.

Nevertheless, Djokovic will surely fancy his chances of winning in Paris. He has already beaten Nadal twice at the French Open, most recently in the 2021 semi-final, the magnificent third set of which was arguably the finest single set ever played on any surface and not just on clay, and won the title twice. So he himself will be going for a hat-trick of titles in Paris, which in the era of Nadal’s domination of the French Open would be an historic achievement in its own right.

Djokovic lost to Nadal in Paris last year in the quarter-final, but 12 months on Nadal will surely be more vulnerable. The Spaniard began 2022 looking as if he might make a serious tilt at a Calendar Slam himself, winning the first two Majors of the year and then reaching the semi-final at Wimbledon before having to withdraw from the tournament because of injury.

Since then, however, Nadal has barely played much tennis, let alone won many matches, and that downward trend continued at this year’s Australian Open. He crashed out in Melbourne in the second round to the unheralded American Mackenzie McDonald and said afterwards that he felt “mentally destroyed”.

So, it may not be the supremely confident Nadal of 2022 that Djokovic will face in Paris this year but a stricken version, who might even be getting closer to following his old rival Roger Federer in retirement. Of course Nadal won’t be the only opponent who Djokovic will face in Paris, but he is undoubtedly the most difficult, and if he can beat him he will be well on his way to securing his second Major title of the year.


It is very hard to make a case against Djokovic winning Wimbledon again this year. He has already won it seven times and if he succeeds in SW19 again in 2023 he will equal Roger Federer’s all-time record of eight Men’s Singles titles.

When Federer established that record in 2017, which broke his three-way tie on seven titles with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw (Great Britain’s great Victorian-era champion), Djokovic was only on a relatively modest three Wimbledon titles and it seemed that Federer’s record would remain beyond him. Now, having won every Wimbledon title since 2017 (there was no Wimbledon in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic), Djokovic is closing fast.

After Federer’s retirement, Djokovic is arguably the only remaining great grass-court player left in the men’s game. And given the relative paucity of grass-court tennis on the ATP Tour (only about 10% of all ATP events are now played on grass, and they are mainly staged in the run-up to Wimbledon), it is hard to see anyone else developing the necessary skill-set in the next few months to challenge him, let alone beat him.

The best bet might be Matteo Berrettini, the big-serving Italian who reached the final against Djokovic two years ago and even won the first set before being swept aside, or Nick Kyrgios, the runner-up to Djokovic last year. However, the Australian maverick is now not only struggling with the injury that kept him out of the Australian Open this year but with the aftermath of admitting this week in court to assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Even if he did escape a criminal conviction, it is extremely unlikely that such an admission and the controversy that follows will have bolstered his chances of going deep at Wimbledon again. So, the grass seems set fair for Djokovic to win yet another Major title in London.

The US Open

After a year away, Djokovic will be returning to the scene of the crime, as it were, if he returns to New York this August. Two years ago, he came tantalisingly close to winning the Calendar Slam when he reached the 2021 US Open Final, only to be blown away by Daniil Medvedev with an utterly inspired display of shot-making that the gangly Russian has not matched since. It is certainly hard to see Medvedev, given his current travails, stopping Djokovic again in NYC.

A far more realistic challenger to Djokovic in New York and indeed at the other two remaining Majors this year is Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning US Open Champion. 2022 was Alcaraz’s year in every sense, as he seemed to sweep all before him, winning his first Major title and with it the world #1 ranking, all at the tender age of 19.

Since then, however, Alcaraz has shown that he, too, is human. He experienced a disrupted autumn, losing several times to Felix Auger-Aliassime in particular, such that his aura of apparent invulnerability has been damaged, if not shattered.

And his withdrawal from the Australian Open last month because of injury has only added to the suspicion that even this young giant might be experiencing growing pains as he adapts to the unceasing rigours of the tour, rigours that The Big Three, and Djokovic in particular, have made look easy for the last two decades.

Therefore, it is doubtful that Alcaraz will have quite as impressive a year in 2023 as he had in 2022, meaning that even he might not be able to stop Djokovic from becoming unstoppable at the Majors.

Is Djokovic’s Biggest Opponent His Own Body?

Notwithstanding the obstacles provided by Nadal and Alcaraz in particular, the biggest barrier to Djokovic going one better in 2023 and completing the Calendar Slam has been removed with the lifting of the ban on unvaccinated persons entering the US. Now the biggest obstacle to his winning all four Majors in one year might just be his body.

If Federer’s defining quality was his flair and Nadal’s his competitiveness, Djokovic’s is his resilience: his ability to bounce back from seemingly any difficulty that he faces. That has been true ever since he had to leave Serbia as a young child, without his parents to accompany him, as he pursued his tennis dreams in Western Europe. And it has been particularly true since he first rose to the challenge provided by the duopoly of Federer and Nadal and then overcame it.

Perhaps that resilience, or bouncebackability, has been most evident in Djokovic’s ability to withstand physical ailments or injuries that would surely overwhelm any other player. Even in Melbourne this year, he seemed to be suffering from a series of physical issues, notably a tight hamstring, that would surely have completely hamstrung any other player, but once again he bounced back to win the tournament.

Achieving the Calendar Slam is arguably the last remaining obstacle for Djokovic to overcome if he is to prove that he is not just statistically the greatest male tennis player ever but undoubtedly the greatest male tennis player ever. If he achieves it, he will have won a remarkable 25 Majors by the end of 2023, with the possibility of more to come in the last few years of his career. And in the wake of his Australian Open win last weekend, his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, confidently predicted that he had at least two, if not three, years left at the top of the sport.

There are obviously major hurdles ahead for Djokovic in 2023, particularly in Paris (in the shape of Nadal) and New York (in the shape of Alcaraz). However, if he overcomes them all and wins the Calendar Slam, he will surely be universally regarded as The GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and The Era of The Big Three will have given way to The Age of Djokovic.

Photo credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports