Novak Djokovic is in serious trouble. His quest to break every record in the book and prove, without any hint of doubt, that he is the greatest tennis player that ever lived, is in danger of running aground. The reason? Simple: he is running out of records to break.
Novak Djokovic – simply the best
The world No.1 is rewriting history with every match that he wins and trophy that he lifts.
On Saturday, he beat Hubert Hurkacz in the semi-finals of the Rolex Paris Masters, a win that secured his position as the world No.1 for 2021. It was the seventh time he had ended the season as the best player on the planet and it moved him ahead of his childhood idol, Pete Sampras. At the end of a year in which his dream of a “golden” Grand Slam had been shattered by Alexander Zverev at the Olympics and Daniil Medvedev at the US Open, it was a monumental achievement both physically and mentally.
He added the record to his 346 weeks spent at the top of the rankings ladder (he overtook Roger Federer’s 310-week benchmark back in March), his joint record with Federer and Rafael Nadal of 20 Grand Slam titles, his joint record with Don Budge and Rod Laver of holding all four major trophies at the same time and his joint record with Roy Emerson and Laver to win all four Grand Slam titles more than once. He is also the only man to have won all nine Masters 1000 titles more than once and the only man to win four consecutive end-of-year Tour Finals. Short of unlocking the secret of time travel, there is not a lot left for him to achieve.
“I don't want to pick any [record as favourite],” he said. “I think every record stands for itself. I value all the records and achievements greatly. Being historically No. 1 ranked player in the world is probably the paramount achievement of our sport.
“Also, finishing the season as year-end No.1 requires full commitment throughout the entire year and consistency and playing the best tennis in the biggest events, which accumulate the most points that enable you to be highly ranked. So that's what I have done this year. You know, I played my best at Grand Slams and I got most of my points there.”
That is why Djokovic’s achievement is all the more special: he cut down his playing schedule this season and yet still managed to leave the rest of the field trailing in his wake. He found a formula to give his 34-year-old mind and body plenty of time to rest and reset in between major successes and then launch himself back into competition at the very peak of his powers.
“I just kind of focused on the most important ones,” he said, making it sound easy. “That's going to be the case also in the future. The biggest events are my priority. And, you know, every achievement is special.”
And there is little hint that he is running out of motivation. He is proud of what he has achieved so far but he knows that he will be a long time retired. When his playing days are done, he can celebrate and revel in his trophies and his records. But not just yet.
“I try to make myself aware of the fact that I am in a very unique position,” he explained. “It's difficult for me to understand the magnitude of these achievements, not just for myself but for the sport while I'm still an active player.
“Of course, I'm very appreciative and grateful for it now, but the next challenge is always in your mind while you're an active player. It's constantly another task, another tournament. So don't have really much time to enjoy the success, so to say, because you always have to turn the next page.”
The heading on that next page is “Grand Slam No.21”. That would pull him ahead of Federer and Nadal. For Djokovic, it is a case of another season, another record. Roll on 2022.