How 'Mastering Every Day' Helps Djokovic Overcome 'Mind Games'
World No. 1 to face Millman in Tokyo final
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic advanced to his 110th tour-level final on Saturday in Tokyo. And when the Serbian plays Aussie John Millman on Sunday, it will be for his 76th trophy.
Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the championship match, and because of all the success he has enjoyed over the years, he was heavily favoured to make it this far. But that doesn't mean it was easy.
“It’s also a mind game in a way because when you have so much success behind you, there is always an expectation from yourself and from others,” Djokovic said. “Everyone asks you questions and sees you already fighting for the trophy, but you still have to master every day. And that’s why you have to create your own bubble in a way, where you just focus on the present moment.”
That does not mean that Djokovic does not approach tournaments focussed on capturing the trophy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“It’s individual, so everybody goes through their own unique path and journey and whatever suits them in their approach to a tournament,” Djokovic said. “For me, obviously I do visualise myself being there and fighting for the trophy, because that’s every tournament’s goal where I participate. I try to get the trophy. I don’t have any ambition that is less than that.”
But to advance through the draw is not as simple as a champion’s scorelines might indicate. The debutant at this week’s ATP 500 event says that those results would not happen without hard work on and off the court every day, which puts himself in a position to execute those performances.
“I understand that every day is different and I have to try to focus my attention and my energy to every day: starting it off well, respecting my routines, respecting the warm-up, the preparation, the recovery after that,” Djokovic said. “Really being able to feel comfortable on the court and off the court, that allows you to peak when you want the most and to perform well.”
Djokovic has also enjoyed competing in Japan. Before the tournament, he went sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Edo-Noren, a facility with restaurants that features a dohyo, a sumo wrestling ring. The Serbian hit with a superfan, Iori Yoshida of Japan, who moved to Serbia for four years after watching Djokovic rise to the top of the ATP Rankings in 2011. Djokovic even visited a digital art museum.
The 32-year-old has also been happy to see plenty of fans flying Serbian flags around Ariake Tennis Park, including Japanese fans.
“I do feel I get a lot of support, especially here,” Djokovic said. “I’ve seen a lot of flags, actually Japanese people holding Serbian flags, which is something that makes me very happy and I am very thankful for that.”
Although Djokovic has one match to go, he is happy with his effort thus far. The top seed needed only two hours and 19 minutes combined to dismiss fifth seed Lucas Pouille and third seed David Goffin in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively.
"I’m very satisfied with the way I’ve been playing the whole week," Djokovic said. "It’s been a very positive week on the court, off the court as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to crown it tomorrow with a trophy."
Djokovic will now try to make his debut in Tokyo perfect with a title. And having played Millman twice — including in the quarter-finals of last year’s US Open — he knows it will be a tough match, especially considering the Aussie saved three match points in the first round of qualifying, and has only been improving since.
“He’s a very solid player,” Djokovic said. “I saw today that he had a very good, solid win against Opelka, who was in form and is never easy to play against because he has such a big serve. And Millman is someone that is fighting hard, he’s a real fighter on the court. He never gives up. He has a positive attitude, he runs for every ball and he makes you play. So it’s going to be again a baseline battle and I’m hoping I can serve as well as I did throughout the week because that’s something that is going to be needed.”