Kolkata: When in May, 2018, Novak Djokovic had slipped to No.22 in ATP rankings, not too many of his fans would have bargained for him to bounce back so quickly. For the same year in November, the Serbian had fought back his own demons successfully to be back in the No.1 spot again - and the resurgence of one of the biggest champions in the sport was complete.
It was hence a momentous day for him on Monday, ‘‘like a crown of all achievements,’’ to put it in his own words, when he overhauled Roger Federer’s record of a cumulative 310 weeks at the top of ATP rankings since it was introduced 48 years ago. With him now at 311 weeks, Federer on 310 and Pete Sampras on 286, the often misunderstood star has not done too badly for himself.
The last two years, which saw ‘Djoko’ spending a total of 88 weeks at No. 1 across two different stints, he hardly put a foot wrong on a tennis court - barring the glaring indiscretion of being disqualified from last year’s US Open for accidentally hitting a woman line judge with a ball and of course, organising that ill-advised Adria Tour in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The champion’s ego was very much evident as Djokovic blew away Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who is certainly one of the pretenders to take over the mantle from the Big Three, to win his ninth Australian Open trophy and 18th Grand Slam title last month. He also holds a record 36 ATP Masters 1000 trophies and first attained the No. 1 ranking on July 4, 2011.
“It’s kind of like a crown of all the achievements that I’ve had in the last 15 or 15-plus years of [my] professional tennis career,” Djokovic said in reference to him being now the tennis player with most number of weeks at the top of ATP rankings.
Speaking in an interview with CNN’s Christina Macfarlane, Djokoic was candid enough to open up on his mistakes in 2020, saying that he is human after all. “I see life as a great learning curve and I feel over the years, I kind of learned how to bounce back because even though I have tremendous experience of travelling around the world and being on top of the men’s game for many years, that has helped me to develop the mental strength and resilience.
‘‘But I still am human being as anybody else. I still have my fears, my insecurities. I still make mistakes and errors,” he said.
The implosive nature of the Serbian, which has earned him the dubious reputation of being a serial racket-abuser despite being one of the elder statesmen of the game - is something he could certainly have done without. “Tennis is kind of my learning ground. My strongest, most beautiful emotions surface there, but also the worst of my emotions surface there,” he said in a moment of reflection.
The interview, which delved into his childhood and growing up a war-torn Belgrade, had Djokovic thanking his parents for believing in their child’s dream - which may not have looked a realistic one given a civil war then ravaging the country. “I’ve been so fortunate in my life to have parents that were very strong in midst of the war and hardship that we were living through it during the 90s. And have their unconditional love and support to play the sport that wasn’t even a tradition in our family or in our country. It was very expensive sport, but somehow they managed to do it, to actually buy me racquets and I could have a coach and I could have conditions that were fair enough or good enough for me to grow up to be a professional tennis player,” he said.
Did he actually believe that he could one day go on to become of the modern greats of the sport? “Dreams are achievable. Everything is possible. I was seven years old and I was constructing this improvised Wimbledon trophy and, and looking in my own mirror in the room and telling myself I’m the best tennis player in the world and I’m the Wimbledon champion and dream of that.”
As the tennis fraternity doffed their hats to this man, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi put things into perspective when he said: “Novak’s many achievements in tennis are nothing short of extraordinary. Among them, this record may stand as his single-most impressive. Reaching No. 1 is something many players dream of and very few ever accomplish, and to have held the top spot for longer than anyone is testament to the levels of sustained excellence that Novak has redefined in our sport.”
MOST WEEKS AT NO. 1
Player Weeks at No. 1
1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 311
2. Roger Federer (SUI) 310
3. Pete Sampras (USA) 286
4. Ivan Lendl (CZE) 270
5. Jimmy Connors (USA) 268