He has lost just one match all year on a hard court; he has lost just one match on any surface since arriving at Roland-Garros in May (the Wimbledon final), he has won three of the four Grand Slams this year, he has won 40 Masters 1000 titles and 97 titles in all – and these are just a few highlights from Novak Djokovic’s Curriculum Vitae.
Rolex Paris Masters: It all adds up for Djokovic
Defeating Grigor Dimitrov in two sets (6/4, 6/3), the Serb won his 7th Rolex Paris Masters, adding to the long list of records he already holds.
As the world No.1 (he holds the record for weeks spent in that position, too) drew Grigor Dimitrov into one final error and so claimed his seventh Rolex Paris Masters trophy (another record, obviously), he was delighted and inordinately proud. He knew he had been on the verge defeat several times during the week thanks to a debilitating bout of stomach flu, a stiff back and a raft of opponents who had made his sweat and graft in the previous three rounds. But with that sore back up against the wall, Djokovic had found a way to win. By the time he faced Dimitrov, nothing was going to stop him. He had earned this title; he had done it the hard way.
“I guess for a professional athlete, once you are out on the court, it's basically very clear,” he explained, “either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them. So there's no in between. So you either fold, retire, or just give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenalin that you're feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you're feeling on the court. So that's what kind of helped me to have extra, I think, extra push, extra energy this week.”
Numbers can be sexy
Number crunching is not a sexy pastime at the best of times but when the drama and emotion, the adrenalin and passion, of individual sport is brought down to percentages points and raw data, it is not the best of times. But not for Djokovic – he loves it. He laps it up.
He has long since overtaken his greatest rivals in the Grand Slam race. He equalled Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 majors in Australia, broke the Spaniard’s record at Roland-Garros (with sweet irony) and pulled level with Margaret Court on 24 major titles at the US Open. With the Australian Open, a title he has won 10 times (and, yes, that is another record), just a couple of months away, he is on course to become the greatest Grand Slam champion, male or female, ever. And that is motivation enough for the Serb.
All still to play for
Djokovic still has plenty of goals to shoot for before this season is over, though. He could finish the year as world No.1 for the eighth time (breaking his own record); he could break the 400-week mark at world No.1 (again, breaking his own record) and then there are the ATP Finals in Turin and the Davis Cup finals in Malaga to play for. So which is more important?
“I'm going for whatever I can go for,” he said. “I'm very close. I think I need one win to clinch the year No.1, so that was the biggest goal other than Davis Cup for the end of the year.
“And I go to Torino, where every match is going to be like finals of a big tournament, because you play a top-eight player [every match]. I had the perfect score in Torino last year, five out of five matches. I like playing there. I think I connect well with the Italian crowd.
“I'm going there with good feelings, with a lot of confidence. I haven't lost a match since the Wimbledon final so I'm really excited to hopefully finish off the season on a high. But clinching the year No.1 and Davis Cup are the two biggest goals.”
Retirement is an ugly word
As Djokovic pointed out at the start of his week in Bercy: “There are obviously differences with different tennis players: some of them think that it's best to leave tennis when you're at the top. Some of them think when you figure out you can't win the biggest tournaments anymore and that you're losing to the young guys, then you leave it. I'm more in the second group.
“As long as I'm a main contender for the Grand Slams and can still win the biggest tournaments in sport, I will not leave. I mean, unless mentally something happens and I really have no motivation anymore, but that's not the case for now.”
Djokovic is winning the numbers game and he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.