Defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic says that his rivalries with fellow ‘Big Three’ members Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have underpinned the success that has stamped him as one of the game’s greatest players of all time.
As he begins his quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title, the five-time year-end World No. 1 paid tribute to the men, with whom he will once against battle for the first major of the year.
“[My rivalry] with Roger and Rafa… is one of the motivations for me to still keep going at this age,” Djokovic, 32, said. “The three of us have inspired each other throughout our rivalries and careers to be better, to understand how we can overcome obstacles in the matchups.
“I am more grateful today to be in the same era with these two guys than I was probably 10, 15 years ago (smiling). I think that definitely rivalries with them made me very, very strong, very resilient, and also very motivated that I am still today.”
Chasing his fifth major after turning 30, Djokovic said that he also turned to his great rivals for inspiration to remain at the top of the game in the latter stages of his career.
“Roger has talked about this as well, Rafa as well, that age is just a number. It’s not just a cliché, but it’s really something that I feel like the three of us have in common. It’s really the way we approach career and our everyday life.
“I think we found a way, a formula, to balance private-professional life so we are able to kind of excel in tennis and still be able to compete at the highest level after many years, still be motivated, still be mentally fresh and, of course, physically prepared and fit to compete in best-of-five sets with young players that are coming up. They’re obviously very hungry to reach the great heights and fight for the biggest trophies in sport.”
Having seen Russian 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev push Nadal to five sets in the 2019 US Open final and 21-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas beat the world’s best to win November’s Nitto ATP Finals, Djokovic says that the challenge to deny the game’s young stars a major breakthrough will be tougher than ever in 2020.
“They’re coming closer and closer. It’s obvious. Medvedev had a great fight with Rafa in the last Grand Slam in US Open of last season. Tsitsipas played semis here last year. Dominic Thiem twice finals in French Open. They’re very, very close. They’re literally one set away.
“On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.”
Djokovic, who is chasing his 900th match win Monday night against German Jan-Lennard Struff, said that his lead-in week to the Australian Open was less intense than previous years due to his strong performance at the inaugural ATP Cup, which included six singles wins in addition to doubles play.
“I did not have such an intensive couple of weeks the year before the Australian Open for many years. It was a lot of physical and emotional energy being spent in the ATP Cup, which of course was perfect for me individually, won all my matches in singles and doubles. We as a team won the title, which was definitely one of the highlights of my career.
“I keep saying that, winning with my friends, with the team, representing my country, winning team competitions, is definitely something that I cherish and that fulfills me truly.
“It was a phenomenal couple of weeks and great leadup to Australian Open. But it did take a lot out of me. I did adjust my training sessions towards that, so I had a little bit more of recuperation rather than just stepping on accelerator a little bit more.
“I just actually kind of put a level down a little bit, just tried to keep the sessions a bit shorter, with good intensity. That’s all, just maintain the right rhythm for the first match.”