New York: Novak Djokovic says being mentioned in the same breath with Rod Laver and battling Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have energized his quest to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam.
World number one Djokovic advanced to the third round of the US Open yesterday, putting him five match wins shy of completing the first men’s singles calendar-year Grand Slam since Australian legend Laver in 1969.
“Being only in the conversation with Rod Laver... is really an honor. I try to draw strength and energy from that,” Djokovic said.
“With history on the line, the excitement grows, pressure grows, but experience and understanding of what I have to do on a daily basis to reach the goal allows me to stay in the tournament, so to say.”
Djokovic has already owned all four Slam titles at once after winning the 2016 French Open and said that was the moment he felt a calendar Slam was possible.
“That’s where I felt this is achievable, it’s reachable, I could do it in one year,” he said, noting how Federer and Nadal had come close and adding, “Their dominance on the tour made me the player I am today.”
Federer and Nadal, both absent due to injuries, are level with Djokovic on a men’s career record 20 Slam titles, another piece of history Djokovic can grab by winning his fourth US Open title.
Djokovic spent years chasing both legends on the all-time list and the issue of who is best among the “Big Three” is one the 34-year-old Serbian star says has been good for tennis.
“It’s difficult to say who is better. Three of us, we’re all so different,” Djokovic said. “We have different styles. We have different trajectories or journeys to where we are at this moment. We all had tremendous success. We do complement each other. I think the rivalry between the Big Three, it’s phenomenal for our sport. So the more traction, the more conversation there is around the three of us, the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) discussion, et cetera, the better in general for our sport. I hope people still keep on talking about it.”
Djokovic dispatched Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in 99 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium, booking a third-round date against Japan’s Kei Nishikori, whom he has beaten in their past 16 meetings.
“All in all very good,” Djokovic said. “I’m very pleased with the level of my tennis. All is going in the right direction.
“I served very well. I found the rhythm on the serve. It was important I came up with the goods.”
Djokovic said it was nice that he has become one of the major faces on US Open promotional posters around the city, but notes he’s the main Broadway attraction with Nadal, Federer and Serena and Venus Williams sidelined.
“That’s not going to affect my game,” Djokovic said. “But, of course, it’s a privilege and it’s flattering to see.”