Novak Djokovic can make history over the coming fortnight at the US Open, where a title would give him a record-breaking 21 majors and the Grand Slam, having already won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year. The World No. 1 is not allowing the pressure of the opportunity to get to him, though. Instead, the 34-year-old is embracing it.
“Obviously I know how big of an opportunity is in front of me here in New York, where historically I’ve played really well over the years. It’s probably the most entertaining tennis court that we have. [The] crowd will be back [in the] stadium,” Djokovic said. “I can’t wait. Honestly I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a Slam here, which would obviously complete the calendar Slam.
“I’m hugely inspired and motivated by that, no doubt. But at the same time, I know how to balance things out mentally, with lots of expectations around. My participation here, without Rafa and Roger participating, I feel it. I know there are a lot of people who are going to be watching my matches and expecting me to do well and fight for a Slam.”
Djokovic added that even without 20-time major winners Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer competing at Flushing Meadows, there will be plenty of tough challengers. Daniil Medvedev triumphed in Toronto, Alexander Zverev won the Tokyo Olympics and Cincinnati, and Stefanos Tsitsipas is second in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin.
“You still have tremendous quality tennis players that are right now on hot streaks, like Zverev, Medvedev [and] Tsitsipas. Those are the three top contenders I see for the title.
But a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam. It’s a two-week-long event, best-of-five [sets]. Everyone wants to do well at the Grand Slams. Anything can really happen,” Djokovic said. “Of course the top seeds are the top favourites to go far and go deep in the tournament, but I’ve been in this situation numerous times in my life.
“There is a slight difference in terms of what’s at stake and the feeling towards that, but I don’t give it too big of a significance on a daily basis because I’m trying to be in the present moment.”
Djokovic Learns Path To Elusive Grand Slam
Djokovic has not competed since the Tokyo Olympics. But the Serbian said that his preparation for the season’s final major has gone well.
“I feel good on the court. I took [a] little bit of additional time off after [the] Olympics. [I] have not played Cincinnati, which was previously planned, because I just felt exhausted in every sense after that long summer, which was very successful,” Djokovic said. “[At the] Olympics [I] unfortunately didn’t end up with a medal. It was a great experience of sharing the Village and the dining room with 10-plus-thousand athletes. It’s a very unique experience that you remember forever.
“You take a lot of positives out of it, putting aside the tennis performance, just in general. I think you can learn a lot, you speak life, you speak sports. I really value that experience a lot.”
Djokovic has great memories in New York, where he has lifted the US Open trophy three times and made the final on another five occasions. The Serbian owns a 75-12 record on the Flushing Meadows hard courts.
The top seed will play a qualifier in his opening match, and the highest-ranked player in his quarter of the draw is Italian Matteo Berrettini, whom he defeated in the Wimbledon final. More than anything, Djokovic is excited to get started as he attempts to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the Grand Slam.
“I’m very inspired to play my best tennis here. I don’t want to say it’s now or never for me because I think I’m going to have more opportunities in my life to win Slams. I don’t know if I’m going to be having more opportunities to win Calendar Slams,” Djokovic said. “That’s why it’s a very unique opportunity. At the same time, I don’t need to put any additional pressure to what I already have, which is pretty big from my own self and from of course people around me.
“But I thrive under pressure, as well. I’ve done that many times in my career. Pressure is a privilege, it truly is. This is what you work for day-in, day-out, all your life, to put yourself in a unique position to win Grand Slams and to make history. At the end of the day, I’m a big tennis fan, [a] fan of history. I admire this sport. I love it. I have this chance, and I’m going to try to use it.”