Novak Djokovic and his quest for perfection
It takes a lot of courage to turn professional in an individual sport like tennis. There's no guarantee of success. If the player does succeed initially, there's no guarantee that he/she will go on to become successful in the long run. For a little boy who dreamed of becoming a professional tennis player from a war-torn Serbia, it was a big deal. But, he had his talent, his intent, his father, and a team that backed him through thick and thin. Fifteen years since turning pro, here stands Novak Djokovic, tying his childhood idol Pete Sampras' tally of 14 Grand Slam singles titles.
After the historic 2015 and 2016 seasons, when he faced a period of extreme existential crisis as a tennis player, there were inevitable doubts regarding his mindset and composure. Questions were raised if he'd ever win another Grand Slam title again. And he did. Not one, but two consecutive titles on his quest for perfection.
The 2018 US Open title is particularly overwhelming for Djokovic, given the fact that he could match his idol Sampras' Grand Slam singles titles tally. But more than matching Sampras' numbers, it was a fight to prove that he still has it in him to win two consecutive majors, that his comeback wasn't over with a Wimbledon title. It was a fight to prove that he could fight against his demons at a Grand Slam tournament where he's mostly failed to live up to his potential. It was a fight within himself.
The conditions weren't perfect for tennis throughout the fortnight, with this edition being regarded as one of the hottest and most humid US Open editions ever. But that's where Djokovic thrives. Contrary to how his career took off, this decade has shown time and again that Djokovic is a machine. He is an incredible tennis player, but more than that, he's a physical beast with an impenetrable defense. Almost nothing gets past him. If he sets his mind into achieving something, more often than not, he will reach the goal that he had set out to achieve.
On Sunday, inside a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, Novak Djokovic faced his good friend Juan Martin del Potro for the men's singles title. Del Potro had looked probably the most threatening en route to the final, using his massive forehand and serve to dismiss every opponent that came his way. But, the final had to be different, and it was different - right from the start.
There was a sense of invincibility in everything Djokovic did on court. Del Potro poured his heart and soul in a quest to win his first Grand Slam title since 2009, but it wasn't to be. Every single forehand bomb that he dropped from the other side of the net, Djokovic defused them, one after another. Del Potro didn't play badly. It was Djokovic's impenetrable defense and superior physicality that made the Argentine look weak in front of the Serbian dominator.
At the start of the 2011 season, the difference between Djokovic and Roger Federer's Grand Slam tally was 15 and 8 between him and Rafael Nadal. Following his US Open win, the difference between him and Federer stands at 6, and that between him and Nadal stands at just 3. Also noteworthy is the visible mental edge that he holds over his peers, which, in turn, gets echoed through the vast improvement in the H2H against his primary competitors. One of the biggest achievements of his career will be the fact that he had collided with his arch-rivals head-on and came out the winner.
Back in 2016, when Djokovic returned to Kopaonik to visit his childhood tennis club, he focused on a wall against which he had hit several balls when he was a kid. He mentioned that it had survived three months of bombing. There were a few unfortunate holes for sure as a result of continuous hits, but the overall structure remained the same. It's not difficult to draw a parallel between that wall and Djokovic himself. He had endured a lot of struggles in the early phase of his career. But ever since he thoroughly changed his diet and fitness regime, this decade has been his to remember.
There was an understandable loss in motivation following his historic Roland Garros win in 2016, coupled with the elbow injury that he suffered in 2017. It's almost unbelievable to think Djokovic had a 5-6 win-loss record until the Madrid Open in early May this year. However, once his confidence was back, there was no stopping him. He won his 14th Grand Slam title this year. It wouldn't be surprising if he adds to the tally and inches ever so closer to Nadal and Federer's legacies.
In the end, the wall in Kopaonik survived all the blows and stood tall despite the continuous bombings. Those aren't forgotten. Novak Djokovic - well, he survived all the hardships and suffering throughout his career to stand where he is now. He found a way to motivate himself and use all that in his favour to rewrite tennis history.