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“I want to make more history”: Djokovic sets sights higher

  • Dan Imhoff

Novak Djokovic is no stranger to the dreaded first-Slam curse.

When he returned at Melbourne Park as the third seed in 2011, three years had passed since he first disrupted the top order with a breakout Australian Open title in 2008.

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The pressure to add to that title had only mounted with each near-miss and the mountain to reach the seemingly untouchable Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had grown.

Djokovic’s name was not even in the conversation.

At the time, Federer stood alone on 16 majors, while his nearest challenger, Rafael Nadal, had closed the gap with his ninth, at Djokovic’s expense, in the US Open final.

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Twelve years on, the Swiss has hung up his racquet for good, the Spaniard has succumbed to a hip injury in his title defence and the Serbian has departed Melbourne Park with a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam crown.

The 35-year-old has no end to his glittering career in sight and makes no secret of his mission to pull clear of Nadal to finally stand, and stay, alone at the summit.

It is not the only record still at play.

“Of course, I have professional goals and ambitions. Those are Grand Slams and being No.1 in the world,” Djokovic said. 

“Those two probably pinnacles of the professional tennis world have always been there as goals for me. So, I do want to make more history of this sport, no doubt.

“I feel game-wise physically I still can sustain and maintain the top level, so as long as that's the case, why not keep going?"

Novak Djokovic celebrates at AO in 2011

“I don't know when the end is going to happen in terms of professional career. Right now, I have the motivation, I have support of [those close to me], which is also something that is probably underestimated and not maybe talked about a lot, but it's a key.”

The 35-year-old’s 10th Australian Open triumph marked a return to the No.1 ranking after Carlos Alcaraz scaled the heights in 2022.

It began his 374th week in the top spot, only three weeks shy of Steffi Graf’s benchmark of 377 weeks.

A third Roland-Garros crown is next on the list.

Should Djokovic add to his 2016 and 2021 titles in Paris, he will become the first man to claim every major at least three times.

Nadal would need another Australian Open and Wimbledon trophy to match that feat.

Only his great southpaw rival’s unprecedented tally of 13 Roland Garros crowns appears safe.

When Federer stood triumphant a remarkable eighth time on the lawns of Centre Court in 2017, Djokovic had held that trophy just three times.

The Serbian has claimed every Wimbledon staged since and could reel in the Swiss legend’s mark in 2023, while a successful ATP Finals title defence would elevate him one clear of Federer’s six.

Now level with Graf and Nadal, one more major would catch Serena Williams, while two would equal Margaret Court’s record.

History beckons at Roland Garros this year and there will be even more at stake on Court Philippe Chatrier in 2024 when the Paris Olympics roll into town.

The majors tally is the foremost benchmark of a champion’s standing among the greats, but a calendar-year Grand Slam is the cherry on top, with an Olympic gold medal and Davis Cup both welcome bonuses.

Rod Laver remains the only man in the Open era who has claimed all four majors in a season; Djokovic came extraordinarily close in 2021, winning the first three Grand Slam titles that year only to fall in the US Open final.

Djokovic checked off a Davis Cup triumph in 2010 ahead of a barnstorming 2011 season, but is yet to taste individual glory for Serbia, having only managed a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Djokovic celebrates winning the Davis Cup with Serbia in 2010

He has cemented his name in the conversation, but the world No.1 takes none of his feats or bar-raising achievements for granted.

“Fortunately for me at this stage of my career, because of all the achievements, it is always basically every match or every tournament there is always something on the line, particularly when the Grand Slams are played,” Djokovic said.

“Of course, I'm privileged to be in this position.”