As Novak Djokovic begins his chase for a fourth US Open title, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is bringing the best out of him as the 20-year-old Spaniard has been “pushing him to the limit.” The pair faced off in the Western and Southern Open final on Sunday, and it took the Serbian three hours and 49 minutes to win — extending his record — his 39th ATP Masters 1000 crown. The hard-court major US Open will run from August 28 to September 10.
“He’s always pushing me to the limit. I think I do to him pretty much the same thing. That’s why we produced a memorable final. It was one of the best, most exciting, and most difficult finals I was ever part of in best-of-three, no doubt, throughout my career,” Djokovic was quoted as saying by ATP.
“That’s why I fell on the ground after I won the match because it felt like winning a Grand Slam, to be honest. The amount of exchanges and rallies. It was physically so demanding and gruelling that I felt very exhausted for the next few days,” the 23-time major champion said.
Djokovic appeared to be having physical difficulty throughout the dramatic Cincinnati final’s first set tiebreaker and the opening moments of the second set. However, the 36-year-old accepted the challenge, saved a match point in the second-set tie-break, and then played his best tennis.
“I love competition. I think the more you find yourself in those particular circumstances where you’re experiencing adversity on the court, where things are not maybe moving the right way for you in terms of the performance of that day, in terms of tennis, or mentally you’re not feeling your best, that’s normally the best possible opportunity for you to grow mentally from that, to learn something. Normally in the face of adversity is where you learn the most,” Djokovic said.
For the first time since 2021, Djokovic is now back in New York. He won the first three major tournaments that year, but he fell one match shy of becoming the first person to win all four major tournaments in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
“The first feeling that I have is excitement to come back because it is the biggest arena we have in our sport, the biggest stadium, and definitely the most fun, electric, exciting atmosphere out there in tennis, playing night session in Arthur Ashe, no doubt. I’m very excited that I’ll be able to play the opening night on Monday. Come back in front of probably the loudest fans in sport, tennis fans in sport,” Djokovic said.
“I’m just very, very [much] looking forward to that. It’s been two years when I played last here and lost finals to Medvedev in ’21, going for four Slams in a year. I haven’t performed well that day in terms of tennis. But what I felt from the crowd, that kind of connection and love and support that they gave me throughout entire match and also in the closing ceremony, was something that I carry still in my heart, and I still feel vibes from that night of the finals two years ago,” the Serbian added.
The last major Djokovic played, he suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. He’s eager to get better and win a record-extending 24th Slam title.
“Grand Slams are the biggest goals that I have in my career at the moment. I always speak about that, that I aim to peak and perform my best in Grand Slams. I don’t know how many more Slams I’ll have. I’ll still keep going. I don’t have an end in my mind at the moment. I also understand that things are different when you’re 36, so I have to be more appreciative, a bit more I guess present, treating every Grand Slam as maybe your last one in terms of commitment and performance,” the 36-year-old said.
“I see every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history. Of course, there’s a big significance to that,” he added.
In New York, where he is the second seed, Djokovic will be the centre of attention as he pursues history. The 95-time tour-level champion acknowledged that he experiences “nervous as anybody else really”.
“People think that I don’t have any stress or tension. Actually, in the contrary, I have quite a lot of that. I have to deal with it, manage it. Everyone has their own way of managing their emotions and trying to be in optimal balance emotionally, mentally, and physically in order to perform their best,” Djokovic said.
Record 23-time major champion Djokovic has been placed in the bottom half of the US Open draw and will face Frenchman Alexandre Muller in the first round.
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