Novak Djokovic’s relentless march toward tennis history continues.
The world No.1’s victory over Matteo Berrettini in Sunday’s Wimbledon final earned him an extraordinary 20th major singles title, equalling the tallies of principal rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
At the same time, the triumph saw him become the first man since another tennis legend, Rod Laver, in 1969 to win the season’s first three Grand Slam tournaments.
Congrats Novak on your 20th major. I'm proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done!— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) July 11, 2021
Congrats @DjokerNole on this amazing achievement. 20 Grand Slam titles is huge and it is amazing that we are 3 players tied on this. Well done and, again, congrats to you and your team for this!@Wimbledon— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) July 11, 2021
Such accomplishments continue to generate discussion about the sport’s “GOAT” (Greatest of All Time) and what Djokovic’s latest victory has contributed to his case for the unofficial title.
“I consider myself best and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn't be talking confidently about winning slams and making history,” said Djokovic, who improves to 34-3 in 2021 after winning his 18th straight match.
“But whether I'm the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.
“I feel like I'm probably the most complete that I've been as a player right now in my entire career.”
The pressure ramps up
Somewhat absurdly, these milestones feel like they have been quickly overshadowed by an even greater achievement the Serb has positioned himself to complete.
Djokovic now turns his attention to the US Open, where a run to the title would see him win the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam and join one of the sport’s most exclusive clubs – one that both Federer and Nadal, as well as other all-time greats like Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, are not a part of.
Given everything he has been on the cusp of achieving in 2021, Djokovic has shouldered enormous pressure each time he has stepped onto the court, especially at the All England Club.
Like women’s champion Ash Barty, who described her journey of “putting my hopes and dreams out into the universe and chasing them”, Djokovic has openly discussed his intense desire to win major titles and set all-time tennis records.
Before facing Berrettini, he acknowledged "the importance of this match for me, the history that is on the line".
Early on, Djokovic played as though the significance of the occasion was weighing on him, rarely looking settled or free to hit out as he let slip a 5-2 lead and a set point to drop the opening set.
However, in a showcase of his supreme confidence and mental strength, he did eventually settle, and from there mostly controlled the match to complete a 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4 6-3 result.
“I think after the first set was done, I just felt relief,” Djokovic revealed.
“Obviously it was not great that I lost the first set, but on the other hand I just felt like I just wanted to get this first set over with so I could just start to swing through the ball and play the way I want to play.
“I did feel before the semis and also finals today slightly different emotion in terms of expectations, the tension build-up that I have maybe in the past because of, as I said, history is on the line.
“I'm aware of it, even though I was trying not to think about it too much, trying to approach this match as any other match. Sometimes the things are so big off the court that it's hard to avoid them.
“It's a constant battle on the court to stay present. (Instead of regretting the past or anticipating the future) it's really a constant work of trying to bring those thoughts into the present moment. I feel like that's the biggest work that I have.
“The highlight of my improvement in my assets that I have in the last 15 years on the tour (is) just the ability to cope with pressure.”
He will need to tap into this ability more than ever when he heads to New York.
The stage is set for an incredible final Grand Slam of the season, with Djokovic, Federer and Nadal all expected to contest the US Open as they each contend for a men’s record-breaking 21st major title.
But the principle storyline at Flushing Meadows will, obviously, be Djokovic’s quest for the calendar Slam – and tennis immortality.
After years of battling Federer and Nadal in major finals, Djokovic is now confronting and conquering a younger generation, including Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French finale, and now Berrettini at Wimbledon.
Overlooked among his many achievements on Sunday was Djokovic becoming the second-oldest Wimbledon champion of the Open Era, behind Federer in 2017.
“I feel like in the last couple of years for me age is just a number. I've said that before. I don't feel that I'm old or anything like that,” the 34-year-old said.
“The more you play the big matches, the more experience you have. The more experience you have, the more you believe in yourself. The more you win, the more confident you are.
“It's all connected. Obviously it's all coming together.”