Djokovic Reveals How Losses Fueled His Wins
With 872 tour-level victories to his name, Novak Djokovic has grown accustomed to winning in his 16 years on the ATP Tour. But while his losses have been far less frequent, the Serbian believes those painful defeats shaped him the most.
“Sport and tennis allow you to grow your character through wins and losses. When you win a match, it sorts of fades away," Djokovic said. "When you lose a tennis match, it sticks with you for a longer time and defines you as a human being and an athlete."
Djokovic picked up his latest victory on Tuesday at the Western & Southern Open, defeating Sam Querrey to begin his title defence in Cincinnati. It was his first match since saving two championship points to defeat Roger Federer last month in the Wimbledon final.
The World No. 1 has experienced plenty of heartbreak himself. He’s finished runner-up in nine Grand Slam finals, 16 ATP Masters 1000 finals and two championship matches at the Nitto ATP Finals. But like Federer, Djokovic has continued to find ways to keep pushing forward after difficult moments and eventually find himself in the winner’s circle again.
"[It is] how you overcome that loss and allow it to get you stronger psychologically and emotionally, or how you allow it to control you and bring you down," said Djokovic. "Sport offers those life lessons in a short amount of time on the tennis court.
Djokovic isn’t feeling any added pressure to retain his crown in Cincinnati. Part of that is because title defences have been commonplace in his career, but it’s also impacted by the positivity that surrounds him.
He credits the childhood support of his parents with his success as a professional athlete. As an adult, he can turn to support from his wife, Jelena, or his longtime coach of 13 years, Marian Vajda. Even though Vajda isn’t in Cincinnati this week, another trusty confidante - and fellow Wimbledon champion - in Goran Ivanisevic has taken his place.
The Serbian is aware that even with his family support growing up, the odds of success on the ATP Tour are small. But he believes that even if he didn’t achieve his dreams in tennis, the encouragement he received would have helped him thrive elsewhere.
“What I like about the college tennis system in the United States is that you always feel like you’re part of a team, win or lose,” said Djokovic. “I get the sense that there’s too much pressure on the shoulders of younger players, that they have to win Grand Slams or be Top 10 players. I think we have to address this in a softer way and with more compassion for those young athletes. If you don’t succeed in making it to the top of your sport, you can still succeed in life. It’s not the end of the world.”
With a 55-8 record over the past 12 months, Djokovic has clearly placed himself at the top of the sport. If his form this season is any indication, it might be awhile before he’s forced to endure another character-building loss.