Hear Novak Djokovic’s opponents explain why he is so successful: why he will begin his quest for a fifth straight Wimbledon championship and eighth overall on Monday; why he, too, will attempt to claim an Open-era record 24th Grand Slam trophy over the next two weeks on the grass courts of the All England Club, and they’ll offer plenty of answers.
His best service return in the game. His dangerous two-handed backhand. its elasticity. His resistance. Your defense. His ability to read another person’s intentions, get to where a ball is headed and hit it back hard, a combination Casper Ruud described this way after losing to Djokovic in the French Open final: «In a way, it just He goes into this mode where he just becomes, like, a wall.»
Listen to Novak Djokovic explain why he did what he did and why, at 36, he still does it, and he’ll offer a much less tangible and much less observable reason, something he mentioned during his victory speech at Roland Garros a few years ago. weeks.
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«I try to visualize everything in my life and not just believe it, but really feel it with every cell in my body. And I just want to send a message to all the young people: be in the moment; forget it.» about what happened in the past; the future is something that is just going to happen,» Djokovic said. «But if you want a better future, create it. Take the media in your hands. believe it. Create it».
Speaking that day about his own hopes and dreams as a 7-year-old boy, Djokovic pinpointed two main goals: to get to No. 1 and to win Wimbledon.
He’s already been No. 1 for more weeks than any man or woman in half a century of computer rankings. He will now try to match Roger Federer by winning the No. 8 title in the oldest of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Djokovic is one ahead of the injured Rafael Nadal, and three ahead of the retired Federer, for the most individual runs won by a man, at 23.
«Those two guys,» said Djokovic, who practiced on Center Court on Thursday, «have been on my mind a lot for the last 15 years.»
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Her 23 is the same number Serena Williams finished her career with last season; only Margaret Court, who has won 24 in both the amateur and professional eras, has more.
«Grand Slams are the target. I don’t know how many, but I think he has a lot more in his body,» Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic said. “It’s fascinating to watch, because sometimes you think, ‘OK, now you’re 23.’ But he’s going to find, again, some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25. Who knows where the end is?
Going into the 2011 season, the so-called Big Three Slam standings looked like this: Federer with 16, Nadal with nine, Djokovic with one.
After winning his initial major title at the 2008 Australian Open, Djokovic went through a span of 11 majors where four of the losses came against either Federer or Nadal in a semi-final or final.
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His self-confidence waned a bit.
«That’s where I was really doubting myself, whether I could do it or not, because you go far but then you fall at the last hurdle,» Djokovic said. «The more times you fall, the more you question everything, you know what I mean?»
And yet, with the same tenacity he uses on a court — «The mental toughness he has is unbelievable,» was how his first-round opponent in Paris, Aleksandar Kovacevic, put it — Djokovic stepped away from the court and found ways to improve. And he still does, which is part of why most consider him, and not No. 1 seed Carlos Alcaraz, the favorite as Djokovic continues to search for the first Grand Slam in a calendar year by a man since Rod Laver in 1969. .
So where does this belief come from?
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Djokovic points to several factors: his upbringing during a time of war and embargo in Serbia in the 1990s; his parents («More than 95 percent of the people … laughed at them and discouraged them from spending what was left of the family budget on such an expensive sport,» he said); his first coach and «mother of tennis», Jelena Genčić; and a later coach and «father of tennis», Niki Pilić.
Everything helped him grow as an athlete and as a person.
When he was 7 or 8 years old, Djokovic said, Genčić would show him videos of top male and female tennis players. He also taught her «the importance of relaxing and listening to classical music, reading poetry, singing and reading, mindful breathing, etc.»
His mother, he said, «is a rock» and his father «instilled in me such power of faith and positive thinking.»
That, as much as any particular shot or talent, is why Djokovic says: «Every day, I’m the best on the court.»
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That is why he has won 11 of the last 20 Grand Slam tournaments.
And that’s why he avoids getting into any debate about who is the greatest player of all time.
«I don’t want to get into these discussions,» Djokovic said. «I’m writing my own story.»