Novak Djokovic, The Ageless Wonder
Is Novak Djokovic better than ever at age 36? With his recent statistics at the Grand Slam tournaments, there is a case to be made that the Serbian is a stronger player in his 30s than he was in his 20s. No matter your opinion on that particular debate, Djokovic is certainly not slowing down despite his advancing age.
Following his latest triumph at the US Open, Djokovic has now won 12 major singles titles in both his 20s and 30s. His 12-3 record in Slam finals in his current decade trumps his 12-9 mark in his 20s. While he has won three majors in a calendar year four times—twice in his 20s and twice more in his 30s—he has twice in the past three years come within one match of winning all four majors in the same season.
Djokovic won three Slams in 2011 and 2015, with Roland Garros the only missing trophy both years. He was beaten in the Paris semis in 2011 (l. to Federer) and in the final in 2015 (l. to Wawrinka). More recently, Djokovic's final losses at the 2021 US Open (l. to Medvedev) and at Wimbledon in 2023 (l. to Alcaraz) kept him from a clean major sweep.
The 2021 season is the only one in which Djokovic won the first three Slams in succession. In the 2021 US Open final, the Grand Slam was on the line.
Questions about retirement are inevitable for any player as he approaches his 40s. But with the sort of success Djokovic has enjoyed in recent years, why would he leave?
"Occasionally [I'm] asking myself, why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done? How long do I want to keep going? I do have these questions in my head, of course." Djokovic said at the US Open. "But knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, I don't want to leave this sport if I'm still at the top, if I'm still playing the way I'm playing."
For comparison, Pete Sampras — whose 14 major singles titles were the record when Djokovic began his career — won just one of those crowns after turning 30. That came in the final tournament of the American's career, when he won the 2002 US Open at age 31. Sampras also reached the final at his home major the year prior, one month after his 30th birthday.
While Sampras went out on top with one final blaze of New York glory, he was No. 17 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings entering the 2002 US Open and had reached the quarter-finals or better at just two previous tour-level events that season.
In contrast to Sampras' 27-17 record in his final year, Djokovic is 46-5 in 2023. The Serbian has won five titles this year, including his record-extending 39th ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati. This follows a 2022 season that ended with Djokovic lifting his record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals trophy.
While even Djokovic accepts that he will inevitably have to take his final bow on the ATP Tour, he does not see that farewell coming any time soon.
"Players come and go. It will be the same kind of destiny for me. Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years," he joked. "There is going to be new young players coming up. Until then, I guess you'll see me a bit more."