“If I don’t want to be humble and be honest, I’m winning the ATP Finals.” Those were the words of none other than Novak Djokovic before the recent World Tour Finals commenced. One of the most divisive figures in the sport, Djokovic’s admission provided a fascinating insight into the mind of a proven champion. Some may call it arrogance, but it’s that exact self-confidence that has propelled the Serbian superstar into the greatest of all-time conversation. In the end, his prediction was spot on as he defeated Italian hometown favourite Jannik Sinner to claim yet another trophy to his storied cabinet. Once again, Djokovic broke records during the final tournament of the calendar year in Turin. Confirming his position as the oldest-ever year-end world number 1, the 36-year-old will end 2023 as the top player in the game for an astonishing eighth time, along with a record seventh ATP Finals crown to surpass the great Roger Federer. Victory against Holger Rune in the group stage also ensured that he would hit the 400-week milestone with the most rankings points throughout the course of his career. You would think that having accomplished everything there is to conquer in the game, that Djokovic would consider taking a backwards step and perhaps prioritise spending more time with his young family.
Instead, the scary part is that he hasn’t reached anywhere remotely near the end of his career; a frightening reality for the chasing pack. With a record 24 grand slam titles already to his name, Djokovic’s longevity in the sport all whilst producing consistently at the highest possible level is nothing short of commendable and deserves recognition. Federer lasted until 40, but most of his major titles came during the peak of his career. Love him or hate him, Djokovic is replicating his results and performances from his ‘prime’ age of mid to late 20’s. A fair argument could be countered to suggest that Djokovic isn’t facing the big three of Federer, Nadal, and Murray as was the case a few years back. Nonetheless, the new generation consists of more talent than in recent memory. From Alcaraz, Sinner, and Medvedev; all three have demonstrated that besides requiring a dip in form from Djokovic on the other side of the net, consistency is vital. We remember the run Medvedev went on a couple of years back during the US swing where he seemed virtually unplayable. Compared to Djokovic as a defensive brick wall, the former world number 1 defeated the Serbian in straights during the US Open final in what seemed virtually impossible beforehand. Not known for his grass court ability, Alcaraz turned it on in the lead-up to Wimbledon, defeating Djokovic in the decider at the All-England Club to claim a famous victory as he took advantage of the top form he found himself in. The past few weeks have undoubtedly seen Sinner play the best tennis of his young career, claiming back-to-back ATP 500 events and beating seven top-10 players between his Wimbledon semi-final loss to Djokovic and his defeat in the Nitto finals against the same opponent. The Italian got the better of the 36-year-old during the group stage phase but was unable to reproduce the scintillating tennis he displayed with his powerful game and effortless serving that ultimately came unstuck when it mattered most. At Djokovic’s age, he is taking the right approach by only entering the much more prestigious tournaments to help preserve energy to continue his remarkable durability.
Even analysing his form during the past week, it’s clear that he still possesses the same movement and technical ability to neutralise his competitors and force the match to be played on his strings. A textbook example of how fundamental experience is in the most monumental occasions. Incredibly, the Belgrade-born maven has only appeared in 12 tournaments this year. However, he is still able to find his best tennis when it’s required. A lot of things can change between now and when the Australian Open rolls by, but if no one is able to hit their true stride and gradually build momentum before the first slam of 2024, Djokovic will once again be the favourite to go all the way at Melbourne Park. The question is: When will Djokovic begin to fade away?