A fierce facial expression, nervousness or, on the contrary – jokes – this type of behavior during Novak Djokovic’s matches is standard. Tears are a rarity in his case. On Sunday evening in Melbourne, however, this is how the famous Serbian gave an outlet to the emotions that had been swirling in him for the last few weeks, but also for the past 12 months.
Djokovic pushed away all distractions. “It was a matter of surviving every game”
Djokovic defeats Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5) in the final and can start celebrating another great success. This one, however, tastes special for several reasons. And that’s why the 35-year-old, when he joins his relatives and colleagues in the box, lies down and starts crying. It’s not over – then he returns to the court, sits on the chair and tears fall from his eyes again.
– I fell apart emotionally. Up to that point, I hadn’t allowed myself to be distracted by the injury or other non-court stuff. It could easily get in the way of my game. It took a lot of mental energy to stay focused and just deal with everyday things,” Djokovic told a late-night press conference.
And the difficulties he had to face recently were few. Even before the start of the Australian Open, he had trouble with his thigh. He wore a tourniquet for most of the tournament.
– Two and a half weeks ago my chances in this tournament were not interesting because of my leg. It was a matter of surviving every game. The good thing about a Grand Slam is that you have a day off between matches, which gave me more time than other tournaments to heal. From the 1/8 finals, my leg was less painful. I was actually playing my best tennis.
The second issue he had to deal with in recent days concerned the turmoil surrounding his father. Srdjan Djokovic, present in Melbourne, took pictures with the fans after the quarter-finals. A recording and a photograph have leaked to the media, in which he poses with people holding Russian flags banned in Melbourne Park. The tennis player’s father was accused of supporting Russia and an armed attack on Ukraine. Due to this incident, the man was not in the stands during the semi-final and final.
“I thought the case would go to the media, but it didn’t. We both thought it would be better if he wasn’t in the stands. It hurts both of us because these are very special moments. Who knows if they will happen again. So it wasn’t easy for him. I saw him after the game, he was a little sad. That’s how it is. But he told me that the important thing is that I feel good on the court, that I win and that he is for me. And that if it would be better for me not to be in boxing, let it be so – recalls the famous tennis player who had previously defended his father.
“If it had been me in boxing, I probably would have reacted differently.” Djokovic doesn’t want to stop
The 35-year-old adds that it was not easy for him to deal with the events of the last few days. Especially at this stage of Grand Slam competition. “But I had to endure it,” he says.
He also had a hard time in Melbourne 12 months ago. Then, upon arrival, his visa was revoked and he was deported, and there was a case of vaccination against COVID-19 in the background.
“Of course, given last year’s events, I was a little nervous coming to Australia now. I didn’t know how I would be received by people. But overall it was a very positive experience, he concludes.
During the final, however, he experienced difficult moments. This was most evident in the second set. Back then, he was shouting at his box very often. The people in it endured it patiently.
“I was talking to Goran and the rest of the team. It’s the kind of normal chat we usually have when I’m not comfortable and looking for advice. It’s hard to explain what you’re going through to someone who’s never been in this situation. I know my co-workers tolerate a lot of things from me and I’m really grateful to them for that. If I had been in boxing, I probably would have reacted differently,” Djokovic admits with a smile.
There was no lack of determination in Melbourne. Not only was he in contention to break his own record for most singles titles at the event, he also equaled Rafael Nadal’s all-time record for most Grand Slam men’s singles titles.
“Of course I’m motivated by winning as many Grand Slam titles as possible. At this stage in my career, these trophies are the biggest motivation to keep playing. I’ve never liked to compare myself to others, but of course it’s an honor to be part of the discussion as one of the best players in history.
He estimates that despite the ailments that plagued him at the beginning of the tournament, in terms of tennis quality, he was now playing the best he had ever done on the antipodes.
“As good as 2011 or 2015 or 2016 or when I had really good seasons,” he says.
Djokovic – despite the age of 35 – has plenty of motivation to continue playing, but he knows that much younger rivals will not make his task easier.
– I don’t want to finish yet. I feel great about my tennis. But nothing is guaranteed. I am also aware that many players want to win such titles or become number one. The length of my career depends on various things. Not only from the body. The support of loved ones and balance in life are extremely important, but also the aspiration to follow the next trophies. I am physically fit. Of course, 35 is not 25, although I’d like to believe it is. But I still believe I still have time. We’ll see how far I go,” sums up the tennis player, who will return to the top of the ATP list on Monday.
Tristin is an accomplished author and journalist, known for his in-depth and engaging writing on sports. He currently works as a writer at 247 News Agency, where he has established himself as a respected voice in the sports industry.