London: Novak Djokovic says he is still “hungry” for Grand Slam glory as Wimbledon rivals queue up to hail him as the “greatest” and his achievements as “phenomenal”.
Having wrapped up a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title at the French Open, Djokovic now targets an eighth Wimbledon title to equal Roger Federer’s mark.
The 36-year-old Serb has won the title at the All England Club on the last four occasions.
A fifth successive victory in two weeks’ time will take him level with Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Slams.
He is also bidding to become just the fourth player in history to win eight or more Wimbledon titles after Martina Navratilova (nine), Federer and Helen Wills Moody (eight).
'Hungry for success'
“I still feel hungry for success, for more Grand Slams, more achievements in tennis,” said Djokovic.
“As long as there’s that drive, I know that I’m able to compete at the highest level.
He added: “A few days after Roland Garros, I was already thinking about preparation for grass and what needs to be done.”
Worryingly for his rivals, Djokovic, one of the most polarising figures in sport, shows no sign of slowing down.
Eleven of his 23 majors have come since he turned 30.
Victory in what would be his 35th Grand Slam final on July 16 would crown him as the tournament’s oldest champion in the Open era.
“A lot of people are coming up to me and congratulating me, reminding me of the historic success,” said Djokovic.
“It’s very flattering, but at the same time my mind was already directed towards Wimbledon, what’s the next Slam, what’s the next task.”
Djokovic’s career-long rival Murray said winning 23 majors was “phenomenal”.
'It's been incredible'
Murray, a former world No 1, was the last man to defeat Djokovic on Centre Court when he won the first of his two Wimbledon titles in 2013.
“What he’s gone on to achieve in the latter stages of his career, it’s been incredible. Also doesn’t look like he’s slowing down,” said Murray who practised with Djokovic at the tournament on Saturday.
“What he did at the French Open, it was phenomenal.”
At the end of 2010, Djokovic’s Grand Slam tally consisted solely of the 2008 Australian Open title.
By comparison, Federer had already won 16 of his 20 career majors while Nadal had racked up nine of his 22. Nine more of Nadal’s Slam trophies came in Paris.
Djokovic’s third win at Roland Garros last month made him the first man to win all four majors on at least three occasions.
“I don’t know how is it possible? He doesn’t have bad days?” asked world number three Danill Medvedev.
“Actually, he does, like everybody but even on these bad days, he manages to beat the opponent. I don’t know how he’s doing it.
“That’s why he’s for me the greatest in the history of tennis.”
Calendar Grand Slam
Should Djokovic successfully defend his Wimbledon title, he will just need to pocket the US Open in September to become the first man since 1969 to claim a calendar Grand Slam.
Djokovic had the same opportunity in 2021 but lost the final in New York — to Medvedev.
“To be able to beat him when he was going for a Grand Slam, maybe he was a little bit tighter than usual, but I played an amazing match,” recalled Medvedev.
On Monday, Djokovic will open proceedings on Centre Court against Argentina’s Pedro Cachin.
The 53rd-ranked Argentine is making his main draw bow at the tournament while for Djokovic it is familiar territory.
“When I enter the Centre Court, I guess it just awakens something in me and I’m able to perform at a very high level,” said Djokovic.
Williams ready to go
Meanwhile, twenty-six years after Venus Williams made her Wimbledon debut, the five-times champion will be back on Centre Court once again on Monday and the 43-year-old American said she could even play until she is 50.
“It’s never been done before so if there is anyone who could do it, it would be me,” Williams told reporters ahead of her showdown with fellow wildcard Elina Svitolina.
Her sister Serena bowed out of the sport at the US Open last year as the greatest female player of the Open era with 23 Grand Slam titles.
Venus, however, has soldiered on through injuries despite falling out of the top 1,000 in the rankings at one stage last year, but she has no plans of following her younger sister into retirement any time soon.
Following an appearance in Auckland in January, she took time off for six months to recover from a hamstring injury and has played only three matches on grass, arriving at the All England Club with a rank of 554.
“(The injury was) a nightmare and a terribly difficult rehab. I haven’t played a lot of matches in the last few years and not by choice,” Williams said.
“So I wanted to be (playing) and I couldn’t. I put my head down and put even more work in and got myself in a much better position.” Of those three matches, her only win came against Camila Giorgi — a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist — in Birmingham.
But Williams will take heart in coming out on top despite knee problems after a gruelling battle that lasted over three hours.
Williams has not won a singles title on the WTA Tour since 2016 and when asked what keeps her going, she said with a smile: “Well, there’s really great insurance benefits on the tour!”
Swiatek takes on Lin
World No 1 and French Open champion Iga Swiatek also plays on the first day of the championships when she takes on China’s Zhu Lin in the first round.
The Pole said she is better prepared for the grasscourt swing this year after buckling under the pressure of the number one ranking in 2022 in a third-round exit.
“Last year I felt a lot of pressure here because I was No 1,” she said.
“I feel like this time ... I could just focus on practicing, actually learning a lot. So hopefully I’m going to be able to use that in my matches.”