Novak Djokovic, who secured his fourth US Open victory and matched the all-time Grand Slam record with his 24th title on Sunday, remains undeterred by controversies, fueled by his unwavering determination to claim the title of the greatest tennis player ever.
The Serbian star’s triumph over Daniil Medvedev at Flushing Meadows marked his third major win of 2023, elevating him two Grand Slams ahead of his formidable rival, Rafael Nadal, on the list of men’s Slam champions.
For the 36-year-old Djokovic, the pursuit of greatness is paramount, and he possesses a profound awareness of his historical significance within tennis.
Persistently surging through both the highs and lows, Djokovic views his journey as “a profound life lesson.”
“I want to convey a message to every young person out there. I was just a seven-year-old with a dream of winning Wimbledon and becoming the world no.1,” he once declared. “I am immensely grateful, but I truly believe I had the power to shape my destiny. I hold this belief deep within me. To craft a better future, one must remain rooted in the present and cast aside the past.”
However, while Nadal and the now-retired Roger Federer are widely revered, Djokovic continues to elicit mixed reactions.
Off-court missteps and controversies frequently overshadow his remarkable on-court achievements.
During this year’s French Open, he etched “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” onto a courtside TV camera lens as ethnic tensions flared up again in the Balkans. He also faced boos for his fist-pumping celebration while his semi-final opponent, Carlos Alcaraz, struggled with cramps at Roland Garros.
Djokovic, though, remains unfazed by the critics, asserting, “I don’t mind. It’s not the first time, probably not the last. I’ll simply keep winning.”
Perhaps his most contentious moment was his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, leading to his deportation from Melbourne just before the 2022 Australian Open. His unyielding stance on vaccination also barred him from the United States, preventing him from participating in the previous year’s US Open.
Even before these incidents, Djokovic seemed destined to be held in a different light than the saintly reverence bestowed upon Federer and Nadal, the undisputed darlings of the public.
Some perceive a calculated quality in Djokovic’s persona—an intense, introspective presence that occasionally borders on affectation.
His infamous disqualification from the 2020 US Open, following a petulant swipe at a ball that inadvertently struck a female line judge, unveiled a glimpse of his fiery character. Additionally, certain personal beliefs, such as his conviction that positive thinking can alter the composition of water and food, have invited scrutiny.
However, one cannot dispute the career accomplishments and unwavering determination of a player who was the first to cross the $150 million prize-money threshold.
“He’s a genius,” remarked Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “He’s a one-of-a-kind individual in the world of sports. He’s a born winner. When you tell him he can’t do something, it only motivates him further to prove you wrong. He makes no excuses and always finds a way to win, even when he’s not feeling his best or when injuries are involved.”
Djokovic, who departed Belgrade at 12 to train in Munich amid NATO’s bombing of his hometown, claimed his inaugural major title at the Australian Open in 2008. It took him three more years to secure his second.
By eliminating gluten from his diet, he honed his lithe physique, enabling him to chase down seemingly lost points and transform into the rubber man of tennis with an impenetrable defense.
In 2011, Djokovic enjoyed a spectacular year, clinching three out of four Slams and ascending to the world number one ranking for the first time.
He boasts an impressive tally of 10 Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledons, four US Open crowns, and three French Open victories. He is the sole player to have won each of the four majors at least three times.
His collection of 39 Masters titles is also a record, as is his remarkable 389 weeks spent as the world’s top-ranked player.
With time seemingly on his side in pursuing the greatest tennis player accolade, Djokovic’s main competitors, Federer, and the injury-plagued Nadal, are facing uncertain futures. Remarkably, 12 of Djokovic’s 24 Grand Slam victories have occurred after he turned 30, reinforcing his claim to tennis immortality.