Novak Djokovic on reaching greatness again and again: ‘You need to re-invent yourself’

Novak Djokovic on reaching greatness again and again: ‘You need to re-invent yourself’
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As Novak Djokovic battled for a record-tying 24th major tennis title on Sunday (10 September 2023) in the US Open final, he kept catching the eye of his six-year-old daughter, Tara.

With tickets in high demand for Djokovic’s player box, the youngster sat with her father’s agent and publicist in courtside seats that also happened to be directly across from the Serbian’s chair during changeovers.

Amidst his three-hour and sixteen-minute triumph over Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic used Tara’s smile and you-can-do-it-dad fist pumps as a moment to ground himself – and then get fired back up.

“Every single time I needed that kind of innocent child energy, I got it from her,” Djokovic told reporters. “When I was going through the very stressful moments, particularly in the second set when I needed a little bit of a push, of strength [and] lightness, she gave me a smile, a fist pump.”

Djokovic won that second set in one hour and 44 minutes, a key moment that staved off Medvedev, who had beaten him at this stage two years ago. The 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 win made the 36-year-old the oldest player to ever win a US Open singles title, while tying him with Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record at 24.

But Djokovic, who went 27-1 at the majors this year with wins at the Australian Open and Roland-Garros, too, has no plans to stop: “Eventually, one day I will leave tennis... in about 23, 24 years,” he said, laughing. “And there is going to be new young players coming up. Until then, I guess you'll see me a bit more.”

Novak Djokovic on re-inventing

himself “I’m living my childhood dream,” Djokovic told fans on court as he received the US Open trophy from a former rival, Andy Roddick. “I had the dream to become the best player in the world and win Wimbledon.”

He’s won a lot more than just one Wimbledon, and Roddick’s presence was a reminder: Djokovic – who won his first major at the Australian Open in 2008 – has entered into another tennis era as the player to beat, with rivals like Roger Federer now retired and injuries challenging the careers of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

He owes his continued success to constant self-reflection around his goals, and also the process he utilizes to reach them.

“One of the biggest lessons I have learned probably mentally throughout my career is that even if you find a formula that works, it's not a guarantee,” he said. “And actually most likely it's not going to work the next year.”

Djokovic continued: “You need to reinvent yourself, because everyone else does. As a 36-year-old competing with 20-year-olds, I probably have to do it more than I have ever done it in order to keep my body in shape, in order to be able to recover so that I can perform on the highest level consistently.”

He showed as much again in the last few weeks, bouncing back from his Wimbledon loss to Carlos Alcaraz to beat the Spaniard (who, indeed, is 20 years old) in the Cincinnati final. Alcaraz was stopped by Medvedev in the US Open semis, but Djokovic is aware of the pressure to keep up – and try and stay ahead.

“I focus on what I need to do and how I get myself in an optimal state so that I can win the biggest trophies in our sport,” he said. “That's what I care about.”

‘I’m going to keep going’

It was two years ago that Medvedev halted a different history-in-the-making moment for Djokovic as Novak went for the calendar Grand Slam – sweeping all four majors in one year.

But that 2021 final loss provided lessons for Djokovic that he applied this past week: Block out all the noise.

“I really did my best in the last 48 hours not to allow the importance of the moment and what's on the line get to my head, because two years ago that's what happened, and I underperformed, and I wasn't able to be at my best, and I was outplayed,” he recalled.

The scary thing for the likes of Alcaraz, Medvedev and other top players is Djokovic has proved mentally stronger than ever as he maintains his physical form at 36: He’s 12-3 in major finals since 2018, having gone 12-9 previously.

And he has no plans of slowing down.

“I'm going to keep going,” he said. “I feel good in my own body. I still feel I [have] the support of my environment, of my team, of my family.”

“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,” he added. “Yeah, occasionally [I’m] asking 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 leave this sport if I'm still at the top, if I'm still playing the way I'm playing.”

Djokovic takes to the court again this week (12-17 September), suiting up for Team Serbia in the Davis Cup Finals Group Stage in Valencia, Spain.

Photo: Getty Images
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