Djokovic: 'History Is Always Hovering Over Me'
How do you deal with the weight of expectation? Relish it, according to Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian moved within one win of a record 23rd major trophy on Friday by defeating World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz to reach the championship match at Roland Garros. Djokovic pulled away from the physically ailing Spaniard after a pulsating opening two sets to clinch a four-set triumph and move to the brink of history.
“Pressure is always on my shoulders, so it's not going to be different,” said the 36-year-old, who would move ahead of Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam titles race by defeating Casper Ruud in Sunday’s final. “But it's part of my sport, part of my life, all that I do. I think that having pressure is a privilege. But it's a source of motivation, as well. Great motivation to play well and to reach Sunday.
“Before the tournament I was saying that of course for me Roland Garros is a Grand Slam, and it's the most important tournament on this surface. So I was well-prepared so that I would be in this position, so that I would be ready for this battle to win this other Grand Slam title.
“I hope that I'll play my best tennis level on Sunday. The only thing I can say now is that I'm very focused. History is always something that's hovering over me, but I'm very happy to be in this position to write history of this sport, but I'm just thinking about winning the next match.”
Djokovic produced some of his best tennis of the fortnight in Paris early against Alcaraz, but the Spaniard had struck back to level the pair’s semi-final at one-set-all when he began to suffer from debilitating cramp that severely hindered his movement on Court Philippe-Chatrier. In true champion style, Djokovic stayed focused on his own game to clinch a comfortable victory in a match that had seemed set to become a Roland Garros classic.
“I have experienced that several times,” said Djokovic, when asked about Alcaraz’s post-match self-assessment that the tension of the encounter had contributed to his physical issues. “Early in my career I was struggling quite a bit physically. I can understand the emotions and circumstances that affect you mentally and emotionally.
“Being in one of the greatest tournaments of the world, [and] maybe for the first time in his career he was expected to win. He was maybe not an underdog, chasing the title and trying to win against a favourite. It was probably the other way around. So maybe that affected him. As he said, it probably did.”
Djokovic was in no doubt that 2022 US Open champion Alcaraz would soon come again on the Grand Slam stage, and likened the Spaniard’s tribulations on the Parisian clay to some that he went through earlier in his own career.
“It's a part of the learning curve. It's part of the experience,” said Djokovic, who had to wait three years between winning his first major title and his second. “He's only 20. So, he's got plenty of time.
“He's showed so much maturity in the last couple of years. He appeared on the scene, just a few years ago, winning his first title, and only a year later he wins his first Grand Slam, and he becomes No. 1.
“I have tremendous respect for that, and he's got a great coach, a great team of people around him. The career will be his. His career will be very successful if he manages obviously to keep healthy, because the game is there.”