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Novak’s goal: Catch up with Federer & Nadal

After conquering 18th Grand Slam, ace Serb courts record of twin titans of tennis
Novak Djokovic shows his Australian Open men’s trophy to a young fan at Melbourne’s Brighton Beach on Monday

Agencies   |   Melbourne   |   Published 23.02.21, 02:38 AM

Novak Djokovic now has only one primary goal — catching up with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam standings.

Forget about winning other, run-of-the-mill tournaments or playing enough to retain the No. 1 ranking. The 33-year-old from Serbia just wants to keep adding to his 18 major championships — he reached that number with his ninth Australian Open title on Sunday — until he no longer trails Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles each.

“They’ve made history already. They made a tremendous mark in our sport,” Djokovic said on Monday. “Do I think about winning more Slams and breaking records? Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed (at) majors, trying to win more major trophies.”

He perhaps needs to play less frequently to protect his body. He had surgery on his right elbow three years ago. Even this year’s first Grand Slam was nearly derailed for him by what he said was a torn abdominal muscle.

“I think 99.9 per cent of players — kids that get a racket in their hands — start dreaming about what they want to achieve. It’s a Grand Slam, winning a major,” Djokovic explained after his imperious performance in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final at Melbourne Park.

“I mean, I don’t feel like I’m old or tired or anything like that,” he said. “But I know that biologically and realistically, things are different than they were 10 years ago for me.”

With his victory in Melbourne, he is assured of a No. 1 world ranking at least till March 8. That is when he will reach 311 weeks at No. 1 for his career, one more than Federer’s total.

Djokovic made clear that mattered to him. “When you are going for No. 1 rankings, you kind of have to be playing the entire season, and you have to be playing well. You have to play all the tournaments. My goals will adapt and will shift a little bit, which means that I will have to adjust my calendar also,” Djokovic said.

“I will have an opportunity to do that, which, as a father and a husband, I'm really looking forward to.”

Until Federer, Nadal and Djokovic came along, no man had won more than Pete Sampras’ 14 Grand Slam titles.

“Roger and Rafa inspire me. That’s something that I’ve said before. I’ll say it again. I mean, I think as long as they go, I’ll go,” Djokovic said. “In a way, it’s like a race (of) who plays tennis more, I guess, and who wins more. It’s a competition between us in all areas. But I think that’s the very reason why we are who we are, because we do drive each other, we motivate each other, we push each other to the limit.”

Djokovic will need to spend some time on the sidelines recovering from the muscle tear.

Parading his trophy on the beach in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton on Monday, Djokovic said a second scan of his abdomen had revealed he had made the injury worse by playing on.

“I just actually came from another MRI that I’ve done this morning and the damage is bigger than what it was when it happened, when I did the first MRI after the third round,” he told reporters.

Djokovic said he had celebrated his triumph by calling his family back home in Serbia and sitting down for a meal capped off with a cake. “I used to go wild and go to discotheques and nightclubs and god knows what. Now it is a bit different... more of a home celebration with family and close people.”


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