“I'm always very confident in myself. I believe I can win the most slams and break the record for longest number one. Those are definitely my clear goals,” Novak Djokovic said, in his recent interview on the In Depth with Graham Bensinger program.
Given what he has achieved in his career so far, it is not hard to understand this extent of his self-belief or why even he chooses to do so. This is because, for Djokovic to be able to do what he has done on the Tour – he has always had to fall-back on backing himself, regardless of whether his audiences – fans and neutral alike – have kept their faith on him.
This is not to talk about a confrontational situation between his audiences and him but about how harder has it been for him to breakthrough – professionally and in terms of perception – despite an earlier start.
The change in perception towards the Serbian has wildly-swung in an oscillating arc in the years he has been around on the Tour. In his initial years, as Djokovic struggled with health problems he was not counted as a serious contender to vie alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
To the sceptics, he was seen as a potential lost – in spite of having won the 2008 Australian Open – with his health problems taking up more headline space than his results. Now, after his having established his dominance and re-setting its boundaries with almost every new tournament he plays, Djokovic’s health has once again been the epicentre of the fracas.
This time, along with his health, it is also the Serbian’s handling of his health – and body – that has emerged problematic, making him an outlier even when he is among equals in his professional domain.
Under these prevalent circumstances, the world no. 1’s opted mode of recourse has been to double down. These days, with the tour being suspended, it is mostly seen in his lifestyle choices away from the court. And before, while the tour was bustling, it was constantly seen in his performances – even when facing match points, as in the still-surreal final at the 2019 Wimbledon.
How does one look at Novak Djokovic words?
Another way, then, to interpret Djokovic’s words is that while he is bound by the same restrictions as others in terms of lack of competitive action, he has seemingly made a conscious choice to superimpose his off-court convictions over his on-court demeanour.
That is, in being unable to play, Djokovic has looked to be trying to use his words as a handy substitution for what he envisions he could have accomplished out on the court had the Tour still been at play. Given this context, the 17-time Slam champion has an added reason to follow up his words – of winning more – with action, when the Tour resumes.
Players have had to live with the backlash of the Tour’s abrupt stoppage with a loss of their momentum. But Djokovic has been the one player who has lost out the most – in terms of opportunities to be capitalised – in his bid to separate and distinguish himself further.
In the same interview, Djokovic also mentioned, “I don't believe in limits. I think limits are only illusions of your ego or your mind”. This statement, too, reveals another facet in his progression. It is a rather newer one, as well – of his seeking to re-identify the purpose of continuing to play the game despite having won (almost) everything, and then some.
And, in these latter-days of his play-making, it is as though Djokovic has regained his perspective and motivation as an athlete. Unlike before, when playing, his mind does not seem to be asking, “Why?” of him but rather “Why not?” This, in turn, has appeared to fortify his avowal in himself, for himself.
It is not braggadocio; it is a fact. It is not so much a gauntlet as the status quo – of not only the future but also that of the present as Novak Djokovic views it.