From near rock-bottom in March, to now on top of the tennis world, it’s been quite a year for Novak Djokovic. Yesterday, the Serb claimed his third US Open title beating 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro. It was Djokovic’s 14th career Grand Slam title, tying him with his idol Pete Sampras.
Djokovic, who won his last 16 sets at the event, talked about what the win means, tying Pete Sampras and more when he addressed the press afterward.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Considering all that you’ve been through this past year, winning the last two Grand Slams of the season, is it fair to say you relish these championships even more now than before?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I do. I know you guys ask me a lot of questions which were related to me, so to say, describing percentage-wise where I am now to where I was three years ago or four years ago. I feel like kind of my mindset always was not to compare myself to any other year or season because my life has turned upside down in the last couple years with so many different things, changes that happened: becoming a father twice, being away from the tour six months, getting surgery, all these different things.
If you told me in February this year when I got the surgery that I’ll win Wimbledon, US Open, and Cincinnati, would be hard to believe. But at the same time there was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back on the desired level of tennis very soon.
I expected, to be honest, quite frank, after surgery that I’ll be back on a high level quite fast. But, you know, it took me actually three, four months really. In that process, I learned a lot about myself, learned to be patient, which was never really a stronger side of me.
But at the same time, you know, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can center yourself, balance yourself and thrive. The last two months have been terrific.
Q. You’ve experienced what it’s like to dominate in this game, yet your life has changed a lot, values shifted a little bit. Do you think about how difficult it is or how much effort you would have to put in, and if it’s worth it to get to that kind of a level again?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, again, I don’t know, and I don’t want to think about that level again because I feel like I’m on a whole new level. That’s kind of my approach and my thinking. I just want to create from this moment onwards the most that I can create for myself, to get the best out of myself in every possible moment. That’s really what I’m thinking about.
I understand and I respect the history, you know, just my career, the sport in general. The past can teach us a lot. At the same time I really want to direct, so to say, my attention and energy into the present moment.
My team knows that. My family knows that. I don’t like to talk about, you know, let’s compare ourselves to this year or that year. I just like to be here now, you know, work hard, work smart, and thrive.
Q. What does it mean to you to get to the number of Pete Sampras, 14? Your idea of getting closer to those two guys ahead of you, Roger and Nadal?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I said, history of the sport, I’m a student of the sport, of course, as everybody else. I respect history, everyone that has paved the path for me and all of us to be doing what we’re doing, to be part of this wonderful sport.
Pete Sampras is one of the biggest legends ever to play the game. He was my childhood idol. He was someone I was looking up to. The first actually thing I saw related to tennis on the TV was his first or second Wimbledon championship. That inspired me to start playing tennis.
There is a lot of significance of me being now shoulder to shoulder in terms of Grand Slam wins with him. It’s truly incredible when you think about it. I watched him win one of his first Wimbledon championships, and I grew up playing and thinking that one day I’ll be able to do what he does. To actually be here, it’s a dream come true.
Q. All three times you’ve won here, you won Wimbledon coming in. Do you feel that’s just an odd coincidence or maybe there’s something to it?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I hope it happens every year, same thing (smiling).
But, no, obviously winning Wimbledon was my childhood dream. I was making these improvised Wimbledon trophies when I was six, seven years old in my room, just kind of dreaming about that.
When I won Wimbledon for the first time, that has kind of opened a lot of doors, metaphorically speaking, for me in terms of my possibilities. I felt like all the other slams were kind of waiting in line for me to first win Wimbledon, to realize my childhood dream.
But I think, you know, winning a slam, any slam, gives you huge confidence that you carry with you for certain period of time. Obviously tough thing about our schedule is that we have Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open condensed within four or five months. At the same time, good thing about it is if you win Wimbledon or French, then you have another slam, and you can thrive on that confidence level that you got from winning the previous slam.
So maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’ve managed to do so well after winning Wimbledon and doing so well here in New York.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about you and Rafa and Roger, this generation, putting up these numbers at the same time. Now having caught Pete, surpassed Pete, the other guys, what makes it so special?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I was talking about this before, that maybe 10 years ago I would say I’m not so happy to be part of this era with Nadal and Federer. Actually today I am. I really am. I feel like these guys, rivalries with these guys, matches with Federer and Nadal, have made me the player I am, have shaped me into the player I am today.
I have utmost respect for what they have achieved on the court, but also the champions, role models they are off the court. I think we have pushed each other to the limit every time we get to play each other. For me, that was always an ultimate challenge: to play Nadal or Federer anywhere.
I think, you know, I had to figure out early in my career, when I was losing most of the big matches on the Grand Slams against them, what it takes for me to actually kind of improve and develop my game to be able to challenge them, to be able to start winning against them when it matters the most.
I think that was one of the most important, so to say, moments and periods of my life, my tennis career, my development. I owe it to them.
Q. There were moments when you had a lot of confidence on yourself, moments where you didn’t have enough. You lost 6 matches out of the first 12. What were you thinking then, and now that you have won two slams? If you win two slams every year, when you’re 37, you would have 20 like Federer.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, your countryman Cecchinato has made me realize, you know, a lot of things after that loss to him in Roland Garros. I was very, very disappointed with my performance that day. I felt like I started to play well in Roma, had some great matches in Roland Garros, and then I felt like I let myself down a little bit there. Of course, credit to him for playing amazing match in the tournament.
I felt like, you know, I was so close to desired level, and then I just completely underplayed that match. I had to kind of disconnect a little bit. I went hiking with my wife for five days in the French mountains. We just isolated ourselves and took things from a different perspective. Ever since then, the tennis is completely different for me. In terms of results, I played finals of Queen’s, won Wimbledon, won Cincinnati, and won US Open. I guess we’ll be hiking some more very soon (smiling).
Q. People are going to think back to normal is winning Grand Slams again. Can you try to explain what has been required of you to reveal the game, the mindset from the surgery? It seems easy that you won two Grand Slams in a row, but I’m sure it’s not.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, obviously it’s not. I’m just one of the hundreds of thousands of players that are trying to fight for their place at the Grand Slams, put their hands on this trophy. I mean, I think it’s just important to see things from I guess larger perspective in order to appreciate everything that you do, to be humble in all of that success, as well.
I try to keep my both feet on the ground. I love this sport. As long as there is that flair in me, I really will keep on going. I still feel it. I still have a lot of passion. I think more than passion, it’s just the will to work and to be dedicated every day.
I know how much it takes from sacrifice and effort and energy to actually give yourself a chance to fight for the trophy. But I also see other guys. We share the locker room, we share the gym. I see them every day. I see how much sweat they put, as well, and they spend, how much time they spend on the court.
It makes me work even harder. On top of that, I have to balance my family life. I’m so grateful to my wife and my kids for being here with me. For most of you that have families, you probably understand what it’s like to be away from your kids for one week, let alone two or three. So I’m just glad that they travel with me, especially for the big tournaments, so I can spend some time off the court with them, which gives me a great foundation for, you know, the tennis that comes after that.
Q. After your loss at the French Open, here was a champion who was angry and very honest emotionally. Since then you’ve gone on an incredible run. I’m still not clear how it all unfolded.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Me too.
Q. Can you talk about what your thoughts were in the mountains.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I remember one moment particularly when we climbed that mountain. It was pretty high. We reached the top after three hours. Credit to my wife. Amazing. She’s so fit. I can’t believe she managed to get all the way up.
We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation.
I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me in a way. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history in terms of results, in terms of how I felt. I just felt like a whole wave of energy that I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards.
Q. What mountain was it?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Mount Victoire. It was inspiration to many of the famous Renaissance painters, if you really want to know. I strongly recommend you to climb it. Some great things will happen in your life, I think (laughter).
Q. There were a lot of Juan Martin fans vocal throughout the match. When they’re shouting, what do you tell yourself to stay focused and not let yourself get distracted?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: This might sound funny to me, but my nickname is Nole. When they shout “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” that’s what I hear. I actually make myself hear that, to be honest, no word of a lie. I really do.
But at the same time, they were very respectful to me, very respectful. They’re his friends. They created a great, great atmosphere. I thought it was electrifying in some stages of the match, especially in the second set when we went toe-to-toe. I had my corner, as well. I had my fans. The full stadium got involved, got engaged, especially in those stages of the match.
When the roof is closed, trust me, it’s very loud, very, very loud down there. It takes a lot of effort to actually stay poised in this moment. I’m glad I managed to do that.
Q. Can I ask you something following on from the women’s final yesterday. Steve Simon, head of the WTA, said today he thinks men and women are not treated equally by umpires during matches. Do you think he has a point?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t know. I hear that first time. I don’t understand, you know, from where he’s coming with that statement.
Q. What Serena said last night was that umpires do not send off men if they call the umpire a thief.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, I love Serena, first of all. I really felt for her yesterday. Tough thing for a chair umpire to deal with, as well. We have to empathize with him. Everyone was in a very awkward situation yesterday. A lot of emotions. Serena was crying. Naomi was crying. It was really, really tough.
But I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit, especially in a Grand Slam final. Just maybe changed — not maybe, but he did change the course of the match. Was, in my opinion, maybe unnecessary. We all go through our emotions, especially when you’re fighting for a Grand Slam trophy.
But I don’t think it’s time and place really to get into other subjects. I don’t see things as Mr. Simon does. I really don’t. I think men and women are, you know, treated in this way or the other way depending on the situation. It’s hard to generalize things, really. I don’t see it’s necessary really to debate that.
I just feel like, as Serena said yesterday in the closing ceremonies, Osaka deserves to have her moment. As for Serena, she knows I love her. She really inspires everyone. To see her still being so dedicated and so committed to this sport, it’s inspiring really to me and to many tennis players, both men and women, around the world.
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