Djokovic treating ‘every Slam as last’ ahead of US Open return

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic leaves after playing at a pop-up tennis court during a US Open tennis event at Times Square in New York on 24 August 2023AFP

Novak Djokovic says he is treating every Grand Slam tournament like it’s his last as he prepares to make a long-awaited return to the US Open next week.

The Serbian star, winner of a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, is bidding to add a 24th to his collection in New York over the next fortnight, which would put him two clear of Rafael Nadal’s 22 Slam titles.

At 36, Djokovic said Friday he is increasingly aware that opportunities to improve his record may become harder to come by even if he is not contemplating retirement.

“I don’t know how many more slams I’ll have,” Djokovic told a press conference.

“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.

“I see this every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history.”

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic plays at a pop-up tennis court during a US Open event at Times Square in New York on 24 August 2023

Djokovic has not played at the US Open since 2021, when his bid to complete a rare calendar year Grand Slam of all four tennis majors was foiled by Daniil Medvedev in an agonizing defeat in the final.

Djokovic was subsequently barred from entry to the United States over his refusal to get vaccinated – putting him at odds with US government Covid-19 travel rules – meaning he missed last year’s US Open.

‘Electric atmosphere’

Djokovic, who opens his campaign on the Arthur Ashe main arena against France’s Alexandre Muller on Monday, says he is relishing his return to what he described as the most “electric” atmosphere in tennis.

“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,” Djokovic said.

“Come back in front of probably the loudest fans in sport, tennis fans in sport.”

With Djokovic absent in 2022, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz emerged to claim the US Open crown.

Since then, Djokovic and Alcaraz have developed a fierce rivalry, with the Spaniard winning a five-set classic in the Wimbledon final last month, before Djokovic bounced back with a pulsating win in the Cincinnati Open final last weekend.

Djokovic said last week’s defeat of Alcaraz in Cincinnati in a near four-hour epic felt like winning a Grand Slam.

“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 said.

“The amount of exchanges and rallies. It was physically so demanding and grueling that I felt very exhausted for the next few days.

“Those are kind of the moments in matches that I still push myself on a daily basis for day in and day out, practice, sacrifice, commitment. At 36, still have the drive. I love competition.”

While most neutrals will be craving a Djokovic-Alcaraz rematch in the US Open final on 10 September, Djokovic insists he is looking no further than Monday’s opener.

“I think it’s also in a way disrespectful to your next opponent if you’re already thinking about your finals matchup,” Djokovic said.

“Even though I’ve had tremendous success... that kind of mindset never really resonated with me.

“But Carlos is No. 1 in the world. He’s definitely one of the best players in the world the last couple years.

“Sure, there’s always an eye that follows him from my team, from any other team. I know that the same goes for me probably. We follow each other.”

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