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Djokovic’s longevity could prove greatest triumph of all

  • Matt Trollope

Of all the impressive feats, statistics and success comprising Novak Djokovic’s stunning career, his longevity is firming as perhaps his greatest achievement.

The 35-year-old on Sunday won Wimbledon, again, this time with a four-set victory over first-time major finalist Nick Kyrgios. 

It mattered little that he lost the opening set to Kyrgios, just as he did in the semifinal against Cameron Norrie – two players almost a decade younger than himself. Neither was it a problem when he dropped the first two sets of his quarterfinal against Jannik Sinner, a player 15 years younger.

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Djokovic’s resilience, experience, fitness and match-management, as always, proved decisive.

Now the second-oldest Wimbledon men’s singles champion of the Open Era, Djokovic is, somehow, trending upwards, despite this being a career point at which one might expect signs of inevitable decline.

With words that could strike dread into the minds of younger, emerging rivals, Djokovic revealed has no intention of slowing down.

“I don't feel I'm in rush really anywhere to end my career,” Djokovic said after subduing Kyrgios 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6(3).

“Just I'm not thinking about it. I want to keep my body healthy because that's obviously necessary in order to keep going at this level. Of course, keep myself mentally sane and motivated to compete with the young guns.

“Coming into Wimbledon, I felt good for my tennis because I've won three titles in a row here. I always liked playing on grass. I felt like each year I've been improving my tennis on grass.

“I came off from Paris from a tough and also emotional loss against (Rafael) Nadal that obviously was disappointing. But Rome, Paris, I was already playing the tennis that I want to play, that puts me in a position to compete for the greatest titles.

“I liked my chance coming into Wimbledon.”

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Djokovic has now won nine major singles titles since turning 30 – more than any other male player.

His ability to elevate his game in the biggest moments, at this point of his career, is reflected in the fact he has won 13 of his past 16 major finals.

In his first 16, he won eight and lost eight.

Against Kyrgios, Djokovic faced a relatively unknown quantity, someone who had never featured on this stage, against whom Djokovic had rarely played or practiced against, and whose serve he had trouble reading and returning.

Yet as he continues to do, he found a way.

“It's weird, I felt like he didn't do anything amazing today. He returned obviously the way he returns… But he was just so composed,” Kyrgios observed. 

“That's what I was just thinking to myself. In big moments, it just felt like he was never rattled.

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“I feel like that's his greatest strength, he just never looks rattled. He just looks completely within himself the whole time. Didn't look like he was playing overaggressive, even though it felt like he was playing big.

“Hats off to him.”

With Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph, he and Nadal have scooped all three major titles between them so far in 2022. This is no different to 2019, when they shared the four major trophies.

Dating back to Roland Garros in 2018, Djokovic and Nadal have combined for 15 of the past 17 majors – another sign of enduring greatness and longevity.

Now with 21 major titles, Djokovic moves to within one of Nadal in the Grand Slam arms race.

And should he win Wimbledon again next year, he would become the oldest Wimbledon singles champion of the Open Era.

Wimbledon giant

There is every possibility he will, for Wimbledon has become practically his own kingdom.

Despite his jaw-dropping record at the Australian Open, Wimbledon is in some ways now his most productive Slam.

He now owns 86 match wins at Wimbledon – more than any other major – and for the first time has won the same Grand Slam tournament four straight times, eclipsing his Australian Open hat-tricks of 2011-2013 and 2019-2021.  

He has won seven of the past 11 Wimbledon titles and owns a 28-match winning streak at the tournament – including 39 straight victories on Centre Court. 

Since 2011 Djokovic’s Wimbledon record reads 66-4 (94.3%), almost identical to his 64-3 (95.5%) record at Melbourne Park in the same span.

“Australia probably is the place where I feel most comfortable because of my record there… That's the court where I would probably like to play, if I have to pick one match or one court,” Djokovic said. 

“(But) Wimbledon is kind of close to that considering the success I had… The more you win, it's logical the more confident, the more comfortable you feel out there every next time you step out on the court.

“Wimbledon historically has always come at such an important stages of my life and my career. I think it was in 2018 when I was starting the year with elbow surgery, trying to work my way back in the rankings, not playing well. This was the first slam that I won that served as a springboard for later US Open win, 2019 Australian Open.

“It's not a coincidence that this place has such relevance in my life and career.”