Novak Djokovic is 36 years old. In a sport like tennis where physicality matters a lot, most athletes contemplate retirement at this age but the Serb is defying the norm and appears to be getting more and more ruthless by the day. He appears to be vindictive too. He may slip up once but very rarely will he slip up twice.
On Sunday at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, home star Jannik Sinner would have hoped for a repeat of his group-stage success against Djokovic but Djoker’s fans would know he doesn’t fumble again. In a rather dismissing performance, he saw off Sinner in just 103 minutes for a straight-sets victory.
However, despite his superhuman performances over the years, Djokovic doesn’t enjoy the kind of following Roger Federer did during his playing days or even today. Rafael Nadal too appears to have the upper hand in that regard. It’s probably down to Djokovic’s tendency not to hold back in his media addresses. He doesn’t mince his words, calls a spade a spade which doesn’t make him a likeable character. Like earlier this month after winning the Paris Masters, he indirectly took a massive dig at Nadal. The Serbinator said he was going to break all possible records that he could break and he won’t pretend that he was not playing for records unlike some people. Frankly speaking, he is not only breaking records but is also extending them.
Djokovic means what he says. This year has been fabulous for him. He equalled (at the Australian Open with a record-extending 10th title) and surpassed Nadal’s record of maximum grand slam wins (at the French Open) in men’s tennis. And then with the win in the US Open, he extended his lead at 24 wins. He has finished the year as the world’s number one player, for a record-extending eighth time.
Nadal isn’t the only one who has faded a bit against Djokovic’s brilliance. Federer, who has won 20 grand slams, too has lost one of his big records to Djokovic. The Serb’s win against Sinner on Sunday brought him his seventh triumph at the ATP Finals. A record seventh title. Heading into the event, Djokovic and Federer were tied at six titles each. The Paris Masters win was also a record-extending seventh title for the Serb.
He is the only player in men’s tennis with three Career Grand Slams. The latest of the three came at the French Open earlier this year. He has also begun his 400th week as the world’s number one, another milestone unheard of and to be proud of.
Djokovic is a head-strong person. He doesn’t like to be part of the mob. When he refused to get vaccinated for Covid-19 and as a result he was barred from many tournaments, including the Australian Open last year, he didn’t break down. Millions of people died the world over and his stance didn’t sit well with many fans but Djokovic stuck to his guns. This particular incident shows what Djokovic is made of. It appears Djokovic for some time now is channelling his pent-up anger after being thrashed from fans and fellow players left, right and centre during the pandemic days.
Djokovic has made massive strides this year and left behind his biggest rivals Nadal and Federer. The Swiss has retired from the sport and the injury-troubled Spaniard has announced he is likely to call it quits next year. From the current crop, there are not many who can hold their own against Djokovic for long in a game so he is certain to be in the ascendancy for a few years more, subject to how long he can keep himself fit. As of now there is no end in sight for Djokovic. Be that as it may, it will be interesting to see if Djokovic will be able to keep up his ruthlessness once Nadal, the last of his arch-rivals, walks off into the sunset. Who else would he like to prove a point to? Djokovic has not won an Olympic gold as yet. The 2008 Bronze winner has often spoken of his ardent desire to tick that box. He hasn’t achieved a Grand Slam (to win all four titles in a calendar year) either – in fact nobody has achieved it in men’s tennis since Rod Laver in 1969 – and maybe these two unfulfilled desires will keep him going.