‘Age is just a number’: Novak Djokovic says he can thrive for years to come

Any reasonable analysis of the 2019 Wimbledon men’s singles final – as opposed to the fan letters that drive fringes of the tennis media – would surely conclude that Novak Djokovic will finish his career with more majors than Roger Federer but a bucket less of love.

It must have been difficult for the world No 1 to endure the disrespect of large swaths of the Centre Court crowd on Sunday, emboldened by Pimm’s and their one-eyed adoration for the Swiss, cheering Djokovic’s every mistake, of which there were too many, and occasionally acknowledging his indomitable spirit.

He and all of Federer’s rivals have become so used to it that blocking it out is an art. Djokovic revealed after they had locked egos in a labour of lungs stretched out over nearly five hours that the cries of “Roger! Roger!” that accompanied his every move he internalised as “Novak! Novak!”

It was quite an admission from a proud professional athlete who has been the best player in the world – apart from enforced spells because of injury – for most of the past five or six years.

As it stands, his fifth Wimbledon title, and third final win there over Federer, brings him up to 16 slam titles, only four short of the eminent Swiss, whose greatness was assured a long time ago but who, rising 38, might not be competing at the very highest level for more than another year or so.

At the Champions’ Dinner at London’s Guildhall on Sunday night Djokovic gave eloquent expression to his immediate and long-term aims.

It was obvious he wants to overtake Federer and keep Rafael Nadal in his sights (the 33-year-old Spaniard has 18 majors) and will be deflected from that task only if he decides to walk away from the game to spend more time with his family.

When he was reminded that he now has as many Wimbledon titles as Björn Borg, he smiled – perhaps wondering silently if his ambitions were greater than that.

“It’s a privilege and an honour to be mentioned alongside Björn Borg, one of the greats in this game, for myself, Roger, Rafa and the players of his generation,” the champion told the gathering.

“Wimbledon is a special tournament in my eyes, in my dreams, and for many other players.

I’m honoured to be in the same room as Rod Laver and Manuel Santana, everyone who has made history for this sport, made it possible for us to compete in such a wonderful sport, to be recognised as a successful athlete.

“I am 32 now, though I don’t really look at age. It’s just a number – like Roger said. I think I have a few more years left in my legs.

“And, if everything goes the right way, if I manage to balance things out in my private life – because I’m a tennis player, obviously, but firstly I’m a father and a husband – and as long as I have the support of the closest people in my life, I am able to thrive.

“If I get to compete, it will always be at the highest level and the intention is always to win Wimbledon.”

So, remarked the evening’s master of ceremonies, Todd Woodbridge (who won nine Wimbledon doubles finals among his 16 slam titles), “I think you have heard it here first. He is after the record.”

Djokovic smiled before saying: “In a matter of words, yes.”

Yet for long stretches of an astonishing final he looked anything but a potential champion.

His range was off, his movement surprisingly awkward and his power in the shot diminished.

Nor did he serve that well, as he admitted later.

It is likely this was the accumulated baggage of another tough fortnight, even if he was rarely in trouble in the preceding six matches.

But any best-of-five match on grass takes it out of even the very best players.

Indeed Federer, in his semi-final against Nadal two days earlier, clearly sacrificed the second set to recharge his weary legs – and it worked, as he found the inspiration and stamina to win in four sets in just over three hours.

Sunday’s trial was altogether different. It looks statistically bizarre that nearly all the numbers fell in Federer’s favour, yet he lost the match, the first slam championship to be decided by the new 12-all, fifth-set tie-break.

Federer lost all three tie-breaks and could not convert two match points on serve at 8-7 in the fifth, despite out-hitting Djokovic off the ground and in the serve.

He put 25 aces past the Serb, probably the best defender in the game over the past decade. Djokovic struck 10. Federer hit 94 clean winners to 54 – a staggering 40-shot advantage.

In overall points he outscored his opponent 218 to 204. These are insane anomalies – because they do not take into account Djokovic’s uncanny ability to extricate himself from one tight spot after another – and there were a whole lot of them.

As Djokovic saw it: “I had to have a good defence because, for most of the match, I was on the back foot. I wasn’t serving the best. Roger was dictating play from the back of the court. So I fought a lot.

“I spent a lot of time during the match quite far behind the baseline. But I am accustomed to that, I’m used to it.

“I like sliding on that surface. I think it has something to do with my childhood, skiing a lot.

“I guess the amount of skiing and sliding on the snow has adapted my ankles to that type of motion.

“Ever since that time, my professional career as a young player, I have trained on sliding on courts. I do enjoy it.”

Source theguardian.com
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