- Jonathan Jurejko
- BBC Sports desde Melbourne
January 31, 2023, 01:40 GMT
Shortly after Novak Djokovic won his 22nd Grand Slam on Sunday in Australia, his coach Goran Ivanisevic was asked how long he thinks the Serbian tennis player will be able to stay at the highest level.
His answer may have sent chills down several members of the Association of Professional Tennis Players (ATP).
“Two, three more years definitely,” said Ivanisevic, who has helped Djokovic win seven of his biggest titles.
“His level is incredible. It’s like from outer space. His brain is working in a different way.”
Djokovic, who turns 36 in May, showed every facet of his greatness en route to beating Stefanos Tsitsipas24, in the Melbourne final on Sunday.
the serb has won five of the last seven Grand Slams he has played, although this victory came in a tournament in which the Spanish teenager Carlos Alcarazworld number one before the event and possible leader of the next generation, was ruled out with injury.
With his victory, Djokovic equaled Rafael Nadal of Spain in number of Grand Slams and set the record for Australian Open trophies, a tournament he has won 10 times.
BBC Sport looks at why Djokovic remains so difficult for younger players to take down.
1. The aura
Before a match against Djokovic, almost all of the younger opponents argue that they should treat him like any other opponent: play the man, not the name.
But how many really believe it and are not intimidated?
Greek Tsitsipas was the last of four players at least a decade younger to be beaten by Djokovic in Melbourne.
In the last four years, Djokovic has only lost five of the 45 matches he has played against opponents under the age of 23.
He has won six of his seven Grand Slam finals in that period against players born in the 1990s, with Russia’s Daniil Medvedev achieving the only success of the younger generation at the 2021 US Open.
Tsitsipas insists that Djokovic’s stranglehold on the younger players is not a “curse”.
“I don’t see this as annoying. This is very good for the sport, to have competitors like him, to have champions like him,” said Tsitsipas, who has lost his last 10 games against the Serb.
If Tsitsipas’s expression is sincere, it feels like he is an exception. It was telling that fifth-ranked Russian Andrey Rublev and American Tommy Paul, the players Djokovic had a relatively easy job against in the quarterfinals. final and semifinals of the Australian Open respectively, discuss the fear players feel at the sight of his name. Rublev, 25, said afterward that he wished Djokovic was on the opposite side of the draw. “A lot of players have a lot of respect for his game,” observed Paul, 25, who was also dispatched in three sets.”No one really wants to see him do his part of the draw.”
2. The mentality on the pitch
When things get tough on the court, Djokovic puts his best foot forward.
That’s particularly relevant at big moments in matches and is a key reason he’s won 22 of the 33 Grand Slam finals he’s played in.
Tsitsipas said Djokovic, who saved 23 of 29 break points during the Australian Open, including two of three in the final, is a player who “pushes you to the limit” on the court.
“It’s very important for those of us who want to become like him one day. Being kicked in the butt is certainly a very good lesson,” he said.
“I’ve become a much better player. He’s made my concentration levels higher and higher when I play against him.”
3. Technique and tactics
Everyone has a game plan to face Djokovic. Being able to execute that plan against someone of his talent is another story.
As Paul said after the semi-final, Djokovic can make others “play bad”.
The American offered insight into his tactics and how Djokovic neutralized those plans.
“I wanted to serve and volley a bit. I didn’t serve and volley once,” he admitted.
“When I took my first serve, I felt like he was returning it to the baseline. I was automatically defensive.
“I wanted to launch drop-shots. I didn’t get a chance to do any of that because I was hitting so deep,” she analyzed.
“I wanted to change the pace with my spin. I missed my first three slice punches. I thought ‘okay, I’m going to start hitting my backhand, I’m not cutting right.’
“He wouldn’t let me do any of those things.”
4. The body
For Djokovic, the need to take care of his body in order to prolong his career and achieve success well into his 30s has been very important for a long time.
He has said, for example, that a decade ago he switched to a gluten-free diet.
While not considered a vegan, Djokovic avoids eating meat, fish, and other animal products.
Returning to yoga and a daily stretching routine has been key to maintaining the extraordinary elasticity that he continues to display when chasing balls around the court.
“The way he takes care of his body, the way he approaches everything, the food, is unbelievable. The level is unbelievable,” Ivanisevic said.
When Djokovic outlined his reasons for not getting a Covid-19 vaccine last year, he claimed he wanted to be as “in tune” with his body as possible.
He added that he has always been “a great scholar of well-being, health, nutrition.”
With success comes scrutiny and Djokovic often finds himself at the center of drama, whether by his own making or not.
He was unable to defend his Australian Open title last year when he was deported from the country following a dispute over his covid-19 vaccination status.
Djokovic was also affected by a hamstring injury at Melbourne Park, which Ivanisevic estimated would have ruled out “97% of the other players”.
Another “spin ball” was thrown at him ahead of Friday’s semi-final against Paul.
His father, Srdjan, was pictured outside Rod Laver Stadium with supporters of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, creating a controversy that Djokovic said was “not nice” to deal with.
However, he managed to put all these distractions behind him and leveled Rafael Nadal’s record for men’s greats.
“I needed enormous mental energy to be really present, focused, to take things day by day,” Djokovic acknowledged.
Few would bet against the world number one winning more Grand Slams than any other male player in the sport’s history, unless Tsitsipas, Alcaraz or the rest of the younger generation – plus Nadal, 36, aspiring to his fifteenth win at the French Open in June – can stop him.
“Of course, 35 is not 25, although I want to believe that it is. But I still feel that there is time ahead. Let’s see how far I get,” Djokovic expressed.
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