© Kathryn Riley/USTA

Novak Djokovic is trying to complete the Grand Slam at the US Open.

Ivanisevic On Djokovic: ‘The More Pressure He Has, The Better He Plays’

Former World No. 2 reflects on his charge's success

Novak Djokovic is now just four wins from completing the first Grand Slam by a male since Rod Laver in 1969. The pressure is mounting by the match, but according to one of his coaches, former World No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic, that is just the way the Serbian likes it.

“He’s going to definitely feel pressure, but he’s a guy who the more pressure he has, the better he plays. That is why he is such a champion. That is why for me he is the biggest tennis player in the history of the sport,” Ivanisevic told ATPTour.com in Newport in July, when he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “Regardless of results or Grand Slams, I said seven or eight years ago when I was not even close to being on his team that the only person who can win four Grand Slams in a year is him.”

Djokovic has sometimes appeared immune to pressure with his stellar play in the biggest moments — that has helped the World No. 1 win eight of the past 12 majors. But that does not mean the 34-year-old does not walk with the weight of expectations.

“He has pressure. Everybody feels the pressure. You can see in the matches sometimes he plays better. He didn’t play seven perfect matches at Wimbledon, but he won. You don’t see that so much because he’s winning,” Ivanisevic said. “I didn’t say he’s going to win for sure, because you can’t say he’s going to win seven matches. It’s a long two weeks, seven matches.

“I’m very happy that there is a crowd because last year we witnessed the saddest US Open ever with the screens and no crowd. This year is going to be an electric atmosphere. It’s going to be great for tennis, great for him. He needs that.”

<a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/players/goran-ivanisevic/i034/overview'>Goran Ivanisevic</a>
Ivanisevic was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July. Photo Credit: Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour
The crowd has been raucous at Flushing Meadows after there were no fans at the season’s final major due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But not only are there fans in New York with their eyes on the action, there are people around the world watching to see if the Serbian can make history this fortnight.

There have inevitably been questions surrounding Djokovic, who lost in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics as well as the bronze-medal match, and did not play again until his first-round match at the US Open. But according to Ivanisevic, Djokovic thrives when people doubt him in any way.

“A lot of people will crack. A lot of people will say, ‘Okay, I don’t know’. But him? He says, ‘Bring it on, I’m going to show you who I am on the court’,” Ivanisevic said. “Look at him, three Grand Slams in a row. He’s already made history and can make even bigger history. He’s an amazing person. You can learn a lot of things from him.”

Ivanisevic is one of the few coaches on Tour who understands the pressure of chasing glory at major championships. But was it easier for the inimitable lefty to play or coach?

“Honestly yes, [it is more pressure to coach]. It’s much easier to play because you play for yourself. You get your frustrations and emotions out on the court,” Ivanisevic said. “As a coach, you’re sitting there, especially coaching a player for whom a final is not good enough. Only victories count, titles and he is on the road to making tennis history.”

<a href='https://www.atptour.com/en/players/novak-djokovic/d643/overview'>Novak Djokovic</a>
Photo Credit: Adam Glanzman/USTA
Despite the pressure of the job, Ivanisevic loves being part of Team Djokovic. To the Croatian, he has a front-row seat to greatness. Djokovic will break his tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal if he lifts a record 21st major trophy at this US Open.

“I’m grateful for being part of the team to witness it from the first row. They ask me how it is. It is an honour, it is a pleasure. But is it easy? Not at all,” Ivanisevic said. “It’s very stressful, but I like that. All your life some kind of stress [is good] and that drives you to be better and coaching a player like him, you can always learn something new every day."

Ivanisevic after Wimbledon joked that Djokovic has 27 lives. But just a week later, he changed his mind and said he has more than that, adding that, “It is unbelievable how he finds the energy to be better every day”.

The Hall of Famer is especially proud to be working with another player from the Balkans. To the Croatian, Djokovic’s accomplishments show people back home what they are capable of.

“It’s unbelievable how the sport brings people together,” Ivanisevic said. “It’s great and it really makes me proud, makes me happy. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it doesn’t matter how rich your country is. If you’re good, you’re good. If you’re going to succeed, you’re going to succeed.”