Novak Djokovic: Center of Attention

Novak Djokovic Australian Open

After winning his record-tying 20th Grand Slam in July at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic admitted that a little more than three years ago, the idea being tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most Majors won may have seem far-fetched. With the US Open now underway, all eyes will be on Djokovic as he looks to capture his record-breaking 21st Major at Flushing Meadows – and in the process, complete the elusive calendar year Grand Slam.

“I probably started thinking about trying to reach the record of most Grand Slams won say two to three years ago. Before that it seemed a bit out of reach,” said Djokovic in his post championship presser after defeating Matteo Berrettini 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-3 at Wimbledon.

“I’ve always kind of believed that I could play my best tennis in Grand Slams and give myself a good chance to win any slam really on any surface because I know what I’m capable of. I know I have a very complete game that has proven to be successful on all surfaces in the past,” added the 34-year-old Serbian tennis superstar.

“Obviously it’s all coming together. I feel like in the last couple of years for me age is just a number. I’ve said that before. I don’t feel that I’m old or anything like that.”

Besides a disappointing performance in Tokyo, Djokovic’s 2021 season has been superb. The current world No. 1 has won all three Majors so far this year, and is looking to join Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only men to capture all four Grand Slams in calendar year.

“It’s really fortunate for me and incredible that it’s all coming together in the same year. That’s something that I didn’t expect, but I always dream of achieving the biggest things in sport,” said Djokovic about the possibility of capturing all four Grand Slams this year.

With Nadal and Federer both absent from this year’s US Open due to injuries, the door even more open for Djokovic to make tennis history by capturing his 21st Major and winning all four Grand Slams in 2021.

While there will be plenty of young talented stars, such as Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas – just to name a few, capable of being crowned champion in Queens, New York, Djokovic will undoubtedly be the man to beat.

Besides his all around game, Djokovic’s ability to play his best tennis in the biggest moments is what sets him apart. It’s understood by keen tennis observers that tennis is a very much a game played between the ears, and at this point, Djokovic has plenty more experience and superior mental toughness compared to his younger peers.

Wimbledon runner up, Matteo Berrettini, provided great insight as to what makes Djokovic so tough to beat.

“The way he covers the court, it’s unbelievable. It’s something that I never experienced. He’s the only player that makes me feel like this,” said the 25-year-old Italian in his post championship presser at Wimbledon.

“Tactic-wise, he’s probably the best player together with Roger (Federer). He’s studying your game, and then he kind of adjusting during the match. It’s not something really easy to do,” said Berrettini, who added that having played in 30 Grand Slam finals, Djokovic has superior knowledge on how to handle his emotions and feelings.

Having won eight Grand Slams since 2018 and coming up on the winning end of many epic matches during his career, Djokovic spoke about managing the mental side of the game.

“Oftentimes you are experiencing emotions and thoughts that would take you in the past, regret for not playing a certain ball or a certain point that you wanted to play, that you could have played, or the anticipation for the future, what if, what’s going to happen,” Djokovic noted.

“It’s really a constant work of trying to bring those thoughts into the present moment. I feel like that’s the biggest work that I have. Probably any athlete, particularly individual athletes. When you’re present, experiencing and seeing things in a very simple way, it’s a tennis match, it’s only the next point, you’re there, then you’re able to perform your best.”

It’s interesting to note that Djokovic holds a 30-28 head-to-head record against Nadal; and a 27-23 head-to-head record against Federer.

“I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning slams and making history,” said Djokovic. “But whether I’m the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.”

Djokovic will look to solidify his case as the best of the best at Flushing Meadows. Given that only two men have won all four Grand Slams in the same year, and given that the next Major title will put him ahead of his two biggest rivals, Djokovic will undoubtedly be the centre of attention at the US Open.

With all eyes on him and the significance of what winning the next Grand Slam means, there will also be plenty of pressure on the current world No. 1.  But as it’s often said, pressure is a privilege–and Novak Djokovic appears ready to embrace the challenge directly in front of him in Queens, New York.

Main Photo from Getty.

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