© Serbia Open 2022

Novak Djokovic remains committed to performing at the highest level on the ATP Tour at age 34.

'I Could Stop Today': Djokovic Still Motivated To Build On Historic Career

World No. 1 rounding into form in native Belgrade

Novak Djokovic played the best tennis of his 2022 season on Thursday to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic, saving his top level for the final few games of the match at the Serbia Open. For the second straight day, he came from a set and a break down to defeat a countryman, after doing the same against Laslo Djere in his Belgrade opener.

"Generally I felt better than I did yesterday," Djokovic said after advancing to the semi-finals. "Even though I was a set and a break down I felt game-wise that I took it up a level or two."

On both occasions, he was pleased with the staying power that allowed him to work his way back into the match: "I muscled it out," he said of Thursday's effort. "I managed to physically just stay there with my opponent, yesterday and today. I was physically able to get into the position to have the momentum on my side."

Djokovic was playing in just his sixth match of the year. In addition to the lack of match play, the 34-year-old also must face the challenge of competing against elite players more than 10 years his junior, like the 22-year-old Kecmanovic.

"Every stage of your career — especially after playing for 20 years on the Tour — has its differences in terms of how you approach things mentally," said Djokovic, who turned pro in 2003. "My life has changed so much over the last 10 years, and my body as well. So you have to adapt to that, understand these changes, understand what I'm going through and figure out the biology of things. I constantly strategise, organise and plan with my team that helps me to peak at the right time and be able to compete with the young guys.

"For me, age is just a number. I sincerely feel younger than 35," added Djokovic, who turns 35 on May 22.

Despite his status at World No. 1, a position he has held for a record 366 weeks and counting, the Serb is careful to keep his personal expectations in check and block out the outside noise.

"All these expectations from people, they got used to seeing you at that level for 10, 15 years. They always expect you to be winning 99 per cent of the matches," he explained. "But obviously that's not possible. You have to accept the fact that you going to lose, that you're not going to feel good, that it might take more time to get into the groove."

Speaking with great perspective, Djokovic went on to share what he sees as the key ingredients for success on the court, while also revealing what drives him to continue to work as hard as he does.

"There's so many different factors that effect the outcome that you see and the performance on the court. But the discipline needs to always be present," he continued. "Before discipline, I would say it's commitment and devotion. If you're not committed and devoted, then you're not going to have as much discipline that is necessary.

"But even before that is, obviously, what drives you: Why are you playing? And for me, I try to always draw the strength from the love and passion for the game."

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With his status as a legend of the game long secured, Djokovic remains committed to taking his tennis to new heights. Even amidst a difficult start to his 2022 season, he trusts in his process and his ability to work his way back into top form.

"I choose to play," he said. "No one is forcing me to play. I've done enough in my career that I could stop today. But I still feel motivated and inspired. I love to play in front of people, of course here in Serbia is a unique opportunity for me, and those kind of unique occasions feed me with good energy. I love being here and I love competing.

"I also, as weird as it sounds, I love being devastated by losing big matches. Because I know that means that I care about winning and being able to compete with the best players in the world."

After his historic 2021 season ended with a loss in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals, the Serb's next big opportunity awaits on Saturday, when he'll face third seed Karen Khachanov for a place in the Belgrade final.

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