Novak Djokovic Is Redefining What Is Possible
When the Serbian eventually embarked on his professional career, Pete Sampras’ men’s singles record of 14 major titles loomed large. Djokovic’s chief rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal loomed even larger.
“To be honest with you, I was probably not thinking so intensely and concretely about the history of the weeks at No. 1 or most Slams until maybe three years ago,” said Djokovic, who on Monday begins a record-extending 390th week atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. "Then I realised, ‘Okay, I'm quite close for weeks in No. 1. I also have a pretty good chance at the Grand Slams if I keep healthy and if I'm playing well.’ Of course the Slams at that point seemed a little bit less reachable than weeks of No. 1, but I believed. I believed that I'll make it.
“I don't put any number right now in my mind on how many Slams I want to win until the end of my career. I don't really have any number.”
Djokovic has won a record 12 majors after turning 30, and seven of the past 10 Grand Slam tournaments he has played. For someone who once thought winning one Wimbledon title was a lofty goal, why put a limit on what he could achieve?
One of Djokovic’s only stumbles over the past few years came in the US Open final two years ago against Medvedev, the same player he defeated Sunday. Attempting to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to claim all four majors in the same year, the Serbian faltered and lost in straight sets, playing far from his best tennis.
“I really did my best in the last 48 hours not to allow the importance of the moment and what's on the line get to my head, because two years ago that's what happened, and I underperformed and I wasn't able to be at my best and I was outplayed,” Djokovic said. “So I learned my lesson. My team, my family knew that the last 24 hours, don't touch me, don't speak to me about the history of what's on the line.
“I really did my best to keep things quite simple and stick to the routines that brought me to where I am and treat this match really as any other match where I just need to win.”
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Djokovic did just that. The match was far closer than the 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 scoreline, though. Medvedev’s strategy of dragging out points seemed to pay dividends halfway into the second set, when the eventual champion began showing signs of fatigue.
“I don't think I have ever played a longer set in my life, particularly not on this occasion against a top player like Daniil,” Djokovic said. “I think he was probably a better player in the second set. He deserved to win that set more than I did. Somehow I managed to turn things around in the tie-break. When it mattered I put one ball into play more than he did. And that was enough.”
Djokovic added: “Honestly, in the second I felt like I was losing air on so many occasions, and my legs, as well. I don't recall being so exhausted after rallies really as I have been in the second set.”
One of Djokovic’s big wishes was to be competing for and winning major trophies when his kids were old enough to understand the magnitude of such an accomplishment. His son, Stefan and daughter, Tara, were both in the crowd. As the pivotal second set neared the two-hour mark, Djokovic found motivation in seeing his daughter courtside.
“She was facing me when I was sitting on the bench. And she smiled at me. Every single time I needed, I guess that kind of innocent child energy, I got it from her. When I was going through the very stressful moments, particularly in the second set when I needed a little bit of a push of strength, of just lightness, I guess, she gave me a smile, a fist pump,” Djokovic said. “She was into it. It's so funny to see that and so interesting to see that she's six years old, my son is nine, and they were both there. They're both aware of what's happening."
Once Djokovic earned a two-set lead, he found his legs again and surged to the finish line inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. For the fourth time in his career, Djokovic claimed three majors in a single season. He came just one match short — losing a five-set thriller in the Wimbledon final — of completing the Grand Slam.
“These are the moments and these are the kind of emotions that I motivate myself with every single day when I'm not playing a tournament. Yeah, occasionally [I am] asking myself, ‘Why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done? How long do I want to keep going?’” Djokovic said. “I do have these questions in my head, of course. But knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, I don't want to get rid of this sport or I don't want to leave this sport if I'm still at the top, if I'm still playing the way I'm playing.”
Djokovic’s goal at the start of the season was to try to win all four majors, but he said he would have signed for winning three of four and reaching the Wimbledon final. The problem for the rest of the ATP Tour is that the 36-year-old shows no signs of slowing down.
“Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years. And there is going to be new young players coming up,” Djokovic said, cracking a smile. “Until then, I guess you'll see me a bit more.”