Novak Djokovic is already looking forward. To where his Grand Slam-winning journey began. A triumph in the 2024 Australian Open would make him the first player – male or female – to secure 25 major titles.
Players come and go. It will be the same kind of destiny for me. Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years! There are going to be new young players coming up. Until then, I guess you'll see me a bit more! Novak Djokovic
The superlatives have flowed as the 36-year-old equalled the record number achieved by Margaret Court in defeating Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows in New York. A performance which also saw the Serb become the first to win in three major finals in a calendar year for the fourth time and avenge a decider loss to the Russian in 2021.
Rod Laver, the last male to secure four in four, tweeted: “Well done again Novak, I’m sure 24 feels as great as one, especially when you have fought so hard to get where you are and to stay there against a growing tide of challengers. You were on high alert tonight against a quality player in Daniil. Take another bow, champ!”
Djokovic analysed his performance, achievement and, of course, celebrated, adding thoughtful remembrances of those who have helped get him to where he is now, like his family, team and friends such the late Kobi Bryant, the basketball star who appropriately wore 24 and gave him “counsel” when the Serb was “struggling” with injury.
But the oldest winner of the US Open in the Open era, who secured his first major at Melbourne Park in 2008, swiftly moved on to next season.
He said: “I occasionally ask myself, ‘why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done?’ How long do I want to keep going?’ 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.
“I’m going to keep going. I feel good in my own body. Still feel I’ve got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family.
“I’ll continue to prioritise Slams as my most important tournaments and where I want to play the best tennis. I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so that I can peak in Slams.
“That will not change. That will stay the same in the next season. I don’t know how many more seasons I have in my legs. So let’s see.
“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.”
Winning majors keeps his juices flowing.
Djokovic, who will return to world No.1 to extend his record stay in top spot to 390 weeks, said: “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.
“My childhood goal was to win Wimbledon and be No.1 in the world, and when I realised that, then obviously I had to set new goals. Goals are important to motivate you so that you have clarity in your preparation on a basis in order for you to actually reach the destination where you’re headed. I think that’s super important for every athlete.
“So I was setting new goals higher and higher and higher as my career progressed.
“But 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. Then I realised, ‘OK, I’m quite close for weeks at No.1. I also have a pretty good chance at the Grand Slams if I keep healthy and if I’m playing well’. The Slams at that point seemed a little bit less reachable than weeks at No. 1, but I believed. I believed that I’d make it.
Djokovic is revelling in new rivalries. With Roger Federer retired, Rafa Nadal resting and Britain’s Andy Murray having to overcome playing with a metal hip to return to the top, the path has cleared for the next generation. Djokovic has won his three major finals this year against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Australia, Casper Ruud in France and, of course, Medvedev in the Big Apple. And he was defeated by the brightest new kid on the block in Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final.
He said: “It’s different, because the rivalries I had with these guys were so strong and solid that it was very high probability that I’ll face either Roger or Rafa or Andy in the finals of a Slam for most of those years when we were facing each other at the highest level.
“Nowadays, that’s different. I don’t mind playing different players in the Slams as long as I win! But I did play three epic matches with Alcaraz this year. I think that is why there is a discussion or debate on the next rivalry.
“I said all I needed to say in a positive way about Carlos, I do really mean it. I think it’s great for our sport that we have another very good rivalry. I know he also has a great rivalry with Jannik Sinner, and you have Casper Ruud. You have these guys, you have of course the generation of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev. These guys that are still top five, top ten in the world. They are great players.
“I think judging by the attendance of people in all Slams and the kind of a hype that goes around Grand Slams, tennis is still in a good place.
“Players come and go. It will be the same kind of destiny for me. Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years! There are going to be new young players coming up. Until then, I guess you’ll see me a bit more!”
Djokovic coach Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, is well aware of what remains in his player’s tank.
Ivanisevic said: “He’s a genius. He’s one of kind. There are not too many people in this world like him sport-wise. This is one of the biggest achievements in sporting history. We’re not talking about tennis. We are talking generally in sport.
“He’s a winner. He’s the guy who is self-motivating. He had luck to have guys like Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer come before him, so they pushed each other, but he’s a born winner. For him, when you tell him he cannot do something, it’s even worse. Then he’s going to show you that he can do it.
“There are no excuses. He always tries to find a way how to win, how to fight, even when he’s not feeling well, injured, not injured.”
Ivanisevic believes Djokovic’s ability to bounce back from the loss to Alcaraz at Wimbledon was a major factor in his New York triumph, with the Serb overcoming the Spaniard in Cincinnati in the build-up.
He said: “We came to Cincinnati. Wimbledon was not even mentioned one time. It’s past. When you lose, it’s past. You know you can’t get it back. That day Carlos was better player, and he won. Very simple.
“He (Djokovic) won Cincinnati. He’s the guy who is just forgetting things and moving on. That’s why he’s so good. That’s why these four-and-a-half weeks in the States, he was happy that he could play here and it was really, really enjoyable and fun.”
Djokovic, as a thirty-something, has won eight major in their four years together.
Ivanisevic said: “I’m not surprised. He’s just enjoying it. He likes the challenges. If he wins 25, he’s going to think, If I win 25, why not 26? It’s always one more, something more.
“He’s taking care of his body, he’s taking care of everything, every single detail has to be perfect, prepared. He’s never happy on the court, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, not good for us!
“Generally, it just does drive him through and he wants more and more. That’s why he wants everything perfect to be on the court, at practice, and that’s why he has unbelievable results.”
Djokovic secured his fourth US Open in straight sets after surviving a set point in a marathon second.
And it earned him plaudits.
Mats Wilander, the former world No.1 from Sweden, said on Eurosport: “This is so special. It is amazing to see him win another Grand Slam after what was an amazing match. The atmosphere and the love he is getting from New York, we have to say that Novak deserves all of these things.
“Winning Grand Slams is one thing, but to be world No. 1 again amongst a group of youngsters, guys like Daniil Medvedev, that is amazing. That means that you consistently win on all the different surfaces and against different opponents.
“I think what stands out for me is that his weaknesses early on – his mindset, his body language, he used to get tired and have to retire – just look at him now, they are his strengths.
“That is what we appreciate so much, when you turn a weakness into a strength and that is perhaps his greatest achievement.
“There is no reason that I can see why he cannot be a Grand Slam winner again three or four times next year because his mind is so strong and he can do everything.”
>Alex Corretja , a former coach to Murray and a Slam finalist, standing alongside Wilander, said: “He has the feeling inside himself that he can keep on going. This year he has shown that he has been the best. I was very surprised when he won Roland-Garros, just the way he played.
“Again against Medvedev, he was suffering so much and fighting, but he was so precise in the important moments.
“He showed why he has 24 Grand Slams, and this is something that is unreal. It is very hard to explain because what he has achieved, we would have never even thought about it.
“I think this is unbelievable, and I am really emotional for him. He has shown as a human being many times that he can go very deep, and I appreciate that.”
Ex-Austrian ace Barbara Schett, also on Eurosport, said: “We will probably never witness this again. I mean, it is a long way for Carlos Alcaraz if he ever wants to get there!
“How many more weeks can he be the No.1 player in the world? I mean, we have to ask this question because I am just not sure if he is human anymore.”
In the meantime, Medvedev was rueful over his missing his set point in the second of his 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 reverse. He chose to hit a cross-court pass rather than go down the line which could have been a winner and turned the match.
Medvedev said: “Oh, regrets, for sure. Should have won it. Should have won it, but sometimes tennis is not that easy. Passing for sure down the line, not cross, but I have two choices and I chose the wrong one. Had I won the second set maybe it could have been a different game.
“He was tired. He was missing some shots at the end of some long rallies. That’s why it was a pity that I didn’t win the second set because I felt like I was all over him, like I was dominating in a way.”
The 27-year-old, a former world No.1 and ATP Finals title holder, reflected on his staying deep on returns, a tactic which worked against Alcaraz.
He said to the ATP: “I was a little bit stubborn on return. I probably should have changed my position. I tried to change in my mind what I was doing on return, like either going a little bit high or low or line, cross. I just didn’t manage to put the ball in the court many times or to put the ball where I wanted to.
“So that was different to when I played Carlos. I managed to be good returning from far, and that’s what I’m good at. I don’t really care too much if the guy is serving and volleying. It makes it a little bit tougher but he has to do it good. Novak first of all does it good, so that’s the first part.
“And then the second part is that I didn’t manage to return well enough, and I don’t want to say because of him. It was more of myself and I should have been less stubborn and gone forward earlier in the match, because I only started doing it a little bit in the third set. But the match was a different story.”