Grand Slam or Not, Novak Djokovic Knows His Role

Novak Djokovic has spent numerous time occupied with his tombstone. He has even imagined individuals visiting his gravesite and studying the phrases.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people on this planet, if you ask them what is the most important thing in your life, would say it’s family, love, health, happiness,” Djokovic stated throughout a late-evening video name from Montenegro this month throughout his household’s trip. “So I might say these 4 issues and I might add that I wish to be the very best father and husband that I may presumably be.

“And I might additionally prefer to be remembered as an individual that was a giver and the person who cared about others and left a mark on the world and that impressed others and that lived life to the fullest. That is, for me, the definition of how I want to look again at my life on the final days of my life.”

So, he was requested, he wouldn’t need his epitaph to say, “Here lies the winner of the Grand Slam?”

“No, no, no,” he stated shortly and emphatically. “Somebody coming to visit me there and looking at the tombstone, I wouldn’t want it written like he has been the best, most successful tennis player in history. Of course, that is a very, very important part of my life and something that I’m devoted to. But if I have to put it on a scale and compare what is more important, it’s a no-brainer for me.”

Djokovic on his solution to defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas within the French Open ultimate in June.Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

Heading into the United States Open, which begins on Monday, Djokovic is seven match wins away from attaining probably the most elusive and coveted objective in tennis: the Grand Slam, profitable all 4 majors in the identical calendar 12 months. Already he has captured the singles titles on the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon. A victory on the U.S. Open would equal the feat of simply 5 gamers — Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970, and Steffi Graf in 1988. Graf additionally gained an Olympic gold medal that 12 months, incomes her a Golden Slam, one thing that eluded Djokovic when he misplaced within the semifinals in Tokyo final month.

With his win at Wimbledon final month, Djokovic, 34, tied Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 main championships. A win on the U.S. Open would break the tie. Djokovic leads each in head-to-head conferences. He is 27-23 in opposition to Federer and 30-28 in opposition to Nadal.

Djokovic additionally has been the ATP’s top-ranked participant for a report 336 weeks, and he’s on monitor to interrupt Pete Sampras’ report by ending the season ranked No. 1 seven instances. He has gained 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles and has captured the ATP Finals 5 instances.

With the 40-year-old Federer out of the U.S. Open after knee surgical procedure, and with Nadal, 35, additionally pulling out with a foot ailment, Djokovic’s probabilities for extra data appear more and more seemingly. Dominic Thiem, the defending Open champion, has additionally pulled out with a wrist damage.

For all the head-scratching strikes Djokovic has made — resembling holding a much-maligned exhibition tour in Belgrade in the course of the pandemic, hitting a line decide within the throat with an anger-filled swipe throughout final 12 months’s U.S. Open, upsetting the tennis institution by making an attempt to start out the breakaway Professional Tennis Players Association and even denying his countrywoman Nina Stojanovic a attainable bronze medal when he pulled out of the combined doubles playoff on the Olympics — there’s a lot to love in regards to the man.

He is unfailingly well mannered, remembers individuals’s names, says please and thank you a large number, and virtually all the time compliments an opponent’s play whether or not he wins or loses.

Through his basis, he and his spouse, Jelena, have supported about 47,500 kids in Serbia. This spring, he put up effectively over $1 million to host two ATP tournaments and one WTA match in Belgrade after different occasions on the earth have been canceled due to the pandemic after which ensured their success by being the headliner in each.

Djokovic introduced that he was enjoying within the Olympics in a video birthday message to a 6-year-old Japanese boy. He additionally observed, throughout his Wimbledon ultimate in opposition to Matteo Berrettini, a younger woman sitting courtside and holding up an indication with encouraging phrases. After his victory, he trotted over and handed the woman his profitable racket. In Tokyo, he stayed within the Olympic Village, one thing most different prime gamers declined to do, and hung out giving fellow athletes suggestions for fulfillment.

One of the individuals Djokovic has inspired is the 20-year-old Serbian participant Olga Danilovic. At the Australian Open in January, Danilovic made her manner via qualifying and was locked in a first-round battle with Petra Martic. Suddenly she seemed up and noticed Djokovic watching her match. The help, she stated, helped her upset Martic, the No. 16 seed.

“People judge a book by its cover and in this case it’s really wrong,” stated Danilovic, who cherishes a racket Djokovic gave her. “For me, he is one of the greatest persons in the world. He gives support when you need it and you can always see his fighting spirit.”

As a toddler, Djokovic shunned math and science in favor of extra inventive topics like geography and linguistics. (He speaks six languages.) But all through his profession, he has sought a aggressive benefit by dabbling in all the things from sports activities psychology and mysticism to quantum physics and electrical energy. He has been recognized to journey with an R.V. that he parks exterior tennis stadiums and makes use of to decompress.

“Novak is an exceedingly bright man,” stated the efficiency psychologist Jim Loehr, who labored with Djokovic from 2012 to 2014. Djokovic has stated his ebook “The Only Way to Win” is his favourite. “He loves abstract things and his brain likes to dig in for more detailed meanings. He has an inexhaustible curiosity about how the mind and body work together and never wants to leave a single stone unturned in his drive to succeed.”

Djokovic arguing with a referee on the Italian Open in 2020.Credit…Pool photograph by Clive Brunskill

Djokovic has struggled to realize the adoration that has adopted Federer and Nadal. He is thought for smashing rackets and for screaming and cursing within the route of his participant field. In 2007, he angered Nadal by publicly imitating the Spaniard’s idiosyncrasies in a televised interview on the U.S. Open. The subsequent 12 months he was booed as he left the courtroom after he criticized Andy Roddick for accusing him of taking extreme medical timeouts throughout matches.

“I understand him when he’s yelling on the court,” stated the Hall of Famer Goran Ivanisevic, a former Wimbledon champion and one among Djokovic’s two coaches, alongside Marian Vajda. “We are from the Balkans so we are a little more emotional than the others.”

Djokovic is aware of that will probably be arduous to win over the New York crowd, particularly after the stadium was empty final 12 months when he was disqualified for hitting the road decide.

“One thing I’ve found is that people are not really comfortable with the constant change of me as a player and as a person,” Djokovic stated. “But I’m truly happy with that as a result of what’s life if it’s not an evolution. We’re all making an attempt to know ourselves on a deeper stage. As an expert tennis participant, I’m left on the market alone on my own on the courtroom and I’ve to take care of all of my demons. So if I break a racket and I shout and I curse, don’t suppose that’s one thing that I intend to do previous to the match and that I’m happy with. Absolutely not. I’m truly ashamed of that. But I’m not afraid to say: ‘Look, I’m flawed. I made a mistake and I’ll in all probability make that mistake once more.’

“Some individuals would say, ‘You have so many years on the court, you’re wiser, you’re smarter, you’re extra skilled, it’s best to know the way to behave and ship the proper message to the youngsters,’” he added. “And that’s correct. I 100 percent agree with that. But it’s not possible for me to always be like that and I can’t always put myself down for it.”

To be Djokovic is to be the hard-to-decipher center piece in a 1,000-piece puzzle. He is just not the easy-to-locate nook or even a colourful edge. He craves love and adoration however makes them as tough to safe as profitable the Grand Slam. And possibly, as he goes for an important title of his profession, they’re what he wants most.

“I’m not good at convincing people to like me,” Djokovic stated with fun. “Some people might argue I am trying very hard to be loved. I’m not. I’m just a human being that goes through various intensity levels of different emotions when I’m on the court. It’s all about the game face when I’m playing and about finding a way to win. But if you ask me whether I like to be in a hostile environment to play, I’ll tell you no, I don’t. I would like to be supported all times.”

Perhaps profitable the U.S. Open, and the Grand Slam, will alter individuals’s perceptions of Djokovic. If not, he must stay with that.

“I’m not going to try to convince people to like me,” he stated simply earlier than saying good evening. “I’m just going to always be my authentic self.”