Novak Djokovic won the 24th Grand Slam of his career, after which he launched into long discussions about how he blocked thoughts of the greatness of the moment (and how he couldn’t do it two years ago), from which he draws motivation at 36 years old. How much are you still going to play and do you plan to end his career?
24 “Helmets” – incredible! Djokovic beats Medvedev in US Open final
“I was just praying he didn’t hit the ball on match point.”
— You are the perfect master of the comeback. We came back to Australia and won Adelaide and the Australian Open. We returned to the United States and won Cincinnati and the US Open. Why do you make difficult comebacks so easily? — I won’t say it was easy. Easy compared to what? We don’t know because few players have been in this situation. People have comeback stories. I love them, they motivate me. Of course, circumstances were different in Australia and here. I haven’t played on American soil in two years and the last time I was here I lost in the final against the same player I beat today.
I have spent the last 48 hours trying very hard not to dwell on the importance of the moment and what is at stake. Because that’s what happened two years ago and in the end I played below my level, I couldn’t show my best tennis and they beat me.
I learned this lesson. The team and family knew that for the last 24 hours they couldn’t touch me or talk about the story being at stake (smiles). I tried so hard to keep it simple, to stick to the routine that got me here, to treat this match like any other that just had to be won.
But of course, there were many different thoughts in my head. I thought about what if, I imagined in my head what it would be like if I won. Or if I lose, but I tried to block these thoughts. It was very difficult during the last 24 hours to keep things simple and prepare properly for the match, but I managed it. I started the game very well. The second set, almost two hours long, was key. I don’t think I’ve played such a long set in my life, not in this case against a player as important as Daniil.
He was better than me in the second set, more deserving of winning it. But somehow I managed to turn everything around in the tiebreaker. When I needed it I was able to add one more point and it was enough. After a break between sets, I got my energy back. I felt better in the third set than in the second. In the second I was exhausted and my legs “gave up”. I don’t remember being as exhausted in long rallies as I was in the second set. But this is understandable, because Daniil is one of the best players in terms of forcing you to play an extra ball and he has a powerful serve. When he hits where he wants and pressures your serve over and over again, it’s a never ending story.
It was a relief to win the second set and then I just prayed that I didn’t hit the last ball on match point. I didn’t think about celebrations or anything like that. Just win the game and then hug your daughter, your son, your wife, your parents, those closest to you, the team. First of all, I wanted to share these emotions with them.
Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
— You have won seven of the last 10 slams in which you have participated. Has anything changed this year? — Changes always happen, literally every week or month something changes in my approach to training, recovery and mental training. I always try to improve my game in some way, at least by a small percentage. It’s a constant attempt to improve, to incorporate some things that work, to find a formula. And even when a formula is found that works, there is no guarantee that it will work next year. Overall, it probably won’t work. This is the most important lesson I have learned in my career.
You have to constantly reinvent yourself because everyone does it. Being able to play against 20-year-olds at 36 requires me to do more than ever to stay fit, recover and consistently perform at the highest level. And you have to mentally and emotionally maintain the right balance between motivation and inspiration to play your best tennis and fight against these guys and the passion and fun of the sport. Because I can get angry with myself and get stressed on training or match days. It takes a lot of energy. But you can consider me a perfectionist.
I’m not the only one. There are many great champions in different sports who achieve success thanks to this approach, the desire to improve every day. Endless. That’s why LeBron James is still playing, or Tom Brady has been playing for so long. Such wonderful people inspire. It’s a constant process, trying to implement certain things that will give me an advantage against the youngsters.
The end of an era! Alcaraz broke Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, depriving him of a “Slam” on the calendar
—When you lost Wimbledon, some wondered if the baton had begun to be passed. How did this match affect you? — People like to talk, there are many different opinions. I am not interested (and it is not my business) to clarify what everyone says or thinks, if the baton is passed to the next generation. I am focused on what I need to do to be in optimal condition and win the most important trophies in our sport. Nothing else worries me.
It is good for tennis that he has a very good confrontation with Alcaraz. He is a huge inspiration for tennis, an amazing great player and a wonderful person.
We all want more attention and interest in tennis. The more people who get involved in tennis, the better for all of us. But at the end of the day, my goal at the beginning of the season is always to win all the Grand Slams. I would be willing to sign immediately if they told me I would win three out of four and be in the Wimbledon final. I regret not having won Wimbledon a little, but you know, I have too many reasons for joy and satisfaction to really regret anything.
I will continue. I feel very good, I continue to have the support of my team, my family and my environment. The “Grand Slams” are the main objective, my priority for the entire season. In other tournaments I don’t play much, it is more important to prepare and reach the highest level in the slams. These moments and emotions motivate me every day when I don’t play in a tournament. Yes, sometimes I wonder why I need all this after everything I have achieved? How much longer do I want to continue? Questions like that arise in my head.
But I don’t want to give up this sport as long as I’m still at the top, as long as I play the game, at a high level, and win important tournaments.
“One day, in 23 years, I will leave tennis”
– Compare this dominant year of yours with others in which you fought against Roger, Rafa and Andy. And now you have a new opponent every time. — Yes, all four times there were different opponents. Those rivalries were so strong because most of the time in the final I faced Roger, Rafa or Andy. Now everything is different. But as long as I win, I don’t mind playing slams against different opponents (smiles). But this year I had three epic matches with Alcaraz, that’s why now they say this is a new matchup.
I’ve said a lot of good things about Carlos and I truly believe it. It’s good for the sport that a new good matchup has appeared. I know, he still has an excellent confrontation with Sinner, and then there is Rune, there is the generation of Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, these guys are now in the top 5, top 10 in the world. Great players.
Judging by the attendance at the slams and the buzz surrounding them, tennis is doing well. Players come and go. The same fate awaits me. In the end, one day I will leave tennis, in 23-24 years (laughs). And new guys will come. But until then, I guess you’ll see more of me.
— You said that you blocked thoughts about the greatness of the moment and that two years ago you couldn’t do it. How did you feel after the victory: relief, joy? – Mostly relief. That’s why I didn’t celebrate like I did at Roland Garros, I didn’t fall to the ground, I didn’t jump for joy. It was a huge relief to see it hit the back of the net. Out of respect, I wanted to quickly approach the network, shake hands and exchange a few words. Then I wanted to hug my daughter, because she was sitting in the first row. I didn’t know they would put it there. There were too many people in the box, there was not enough space for two small chairs (smiles). This topic was decided by my wife and her team; I didn’t know who would sit there.
Then I went out to the court and saw her. She looked at me as I sat on the bench. She smiled to me. Every time I needed the energy of an innocent girl, I received it from her. In the most nervous moments, especially in the second set, when she had to push, feel strength and lightness, she smiled at me and raised her fist. She was passionate. It’s funny because she’s six and her son is nine, and they both knew what was going on. When I became a father for the first time, one of the wishes was to live to win the “slam” in front of them and for them to be aware of what was happening. Happy to have been able to do it twice this year in front of them, here and in Paris.
“Shitty gift for the wife.” Medvedev’s jokes and Djokovic’s apologies after the US Open
— Was there a moment when you aimed for 24 or 25, and then a moment when you realized it was real? – I said on the court that as a child I dreamed of winning Wimbledon and becoming the first racket in the world. Having achieved this, I set new goals for myself. Goals are important for motivation and clarity in preparation, the daily work that will lead you to that goal. This is very important for any athlete.
As my career progressed, my goals became higher and higher. But, to be honest, I didn’t think so carefully and clearly about the history, about the number of weeks in the ranking of the first racket or about the record of “slams”. I just started three years ago. Then I realized that I had already been close to the record in the first racket rank for weeks, and if I play well and my health allows it, I have a good chance of breaking the “slams” record. At the time, slams seemed less achievable than weeks in first-racket range, but I believed it. I thought I could.
Now I don’t think exactly how many helmets I want to win before the end of my career. I don’t have an exact number. They will continue to be a priority as the most important tournaments where I want to show my best tennis. This is how it will be next year, and I don’t know how many more seasons are left at my feet. We’ll see.
— What do you think you would say to a seven-year-old child if you knew you would have 24 “helmets”? “I definitely didn’t dream about it then.” It seems to me that he already had quite big dreams for a seven-year-old boy – Wimbledon and the title of the first racket in the world. Entering such an expensive and inaccessible sport is already a great ambition for a child whose family does not play tennis, for a child in Serbia, who was imposed by sanctions and embargoes, in a country devastated by war.
The odds were not on my side, but we did it. I say “we” because I owe a lot to my family, to my parents, who sacrificed a lot for me. This is not a cliché, but it is actually true. It was incredibly difficult, they went through many hardships and horrors. When you think about it, the last thing you want to think about in your situation is supporting a child in an expensive sport. It was more important to get food. It’s an incredible journey that we can all be proud of.
This education and my childhood experience allow me to appreciate this or any other great moment of my career in the history of this sport. So at that moment I didn’t think about going down in history, because it seemed like something very far away. But three or four years ago I started to believe my chances were good.