Novak's Ascent Towards Tennis' Summit Began With a Hike
Right now, it’s hard to believe how Novak Djokovic began his 2018 campaign. After a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open, he underwent a right elbow procedure. And early in his return, more than a month later, he’d lose five of his first eight matches back. Even after an encouraging semi-final showing in Rome, the father of two was not quite the Djokovic that spent 223 weeks atop the ATP Rankings.
After Italian Marco Cecchinato shocked him in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, Djokovic disconnected. The Serbian and his wife, Jelena Djokovic, went on a five-day hiking trip. One day, they spent three hours climbing to the top of Montagne Sainte-Victoire in France.
“We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation,” Djokovic remembered. “I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me in a way. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history in terms of results, in terms of how I felt. I just felt like a whole wave of energy that I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards.”
Thriving is an understatement. Djokovic has been playing what one could argue is some of the best tennis of his life. The 31-year-old lifted his fourth Wimbledon trophy, completed the Career Golden Masters by triumphing for the first time in Cincinnati, and after a tremendous performance in Flushing Meadows, he won his third US Open.
“I expected, to be honest, quite frank, after surgery that I'll be back on a high level quite fast. But it took me actually three, four months really. In that process, I learned a lot about myself, learned to be patient, which was never really a stronger side of me,” Djokovic said. “But at the same time, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can centre yourself, balance yourself and thrive. The last two months have been terrific.”
Now the question is, just how far can Djokovic go? Thanks to his efforts in New York, Djokovic will ascend back to World No. 3 on Monday, which is astonishing considering he was No. 21 two months ago. Since he missed the rest of 2017 after a quarter-final exit at Wimbledon last year, he has no points to defend for the rest of the season. Considering the 31-year-old has won back-to-back Grand Slams, it’s not inconceivable that he can find himself where he one was: at the top of the tennis world.
Watch A Tribute To Djokovic After He Completed The Career Golden Masters
“I don't want to think about that level again because I feel like I'm on a whole new level,” Djokovic said. “That's kind of my approach and my thinking. I just want to create from this moment onwards the most that I can create for myself, to get the best out of myself in every possible moment.”
Djokovic also understands that this isn’t the end of his journey. Earlier this year, he fell to one of his lowest lows on the court. But just because he’s emphatically declared himself as the in-form player on the ATP World Tour doesn’t mean that he can take a deep breath.
“I'm just one of the hundreds of thousands of players that are trying to fight for their place at the Grand Slams, put their hands on this trophy,” Djokovic said. “It's just important to see things from I guess larger perspective in order to appreciate everything that you do, to be humble in all of that success, as well.
“I try to keep my both feet on the ground. I love this sport. As long as there is that flair in me, I really will keep on going. I still feel it. I still have a lot of passion. I think more than passion, it's just the will to work and to be dedicated every day.”
It’s not that long ago that Djokovic was struggling to win matches, forget tournaments, even enduring his first three-match losing streak in more than a decade. Yet all it took was a bit of perspective high up a mountain in France, and now Djokovic is flying as high as that very peak.
“We just isolated ourselves and took things from a different perspective,” Djokovic said of his hike. “Ever since then, the tennis is completely different for me. In terms of results, I played finals of Queen's, won Wimbledon, won Cincinnati, and won [the] US Open. I guess we'll be hiking some more very soon.”