Novak Djokovic is still on a 17-match winning streak on the circuit. Although his presence on the courts has been sporadic in 2022 for reasons that we know, the Serb remains the reference in men’s tennis. And the emergence of a new generation led by Carlos Alcaraz only strengthens his desire to prove that he is still the boss.
Even though it is not yet complete, how can we sum up this 2022 men’s season in a terse formula? Perhaps like this: Carlos Alcaraz is the world number one. Rafael Nadal is the man of the year with his two major titles synonymous with records. But Novak Djokovic is still the best player in the world.
Of course, one can always say the opposite, and rely on his defeat in the quarterfinals of the French Open against Nadal, but that’s the feeling that this strange year leaves us with, in which the Serbian champion has missed two Grand Slams and twice as many Masters 10000.
However, despite his anemic schedule (Bercy is only his 10th tournament in 2022) and despite missing out on points for his Wimbledon title this summer, he has managed to be among the top ten in the Race rankings. Hence what is perhaps more of a sensation than an absolute truth, but one that remains prevalent: yes, Novak Djokovic remains the benchmark of the circuit.
Against Maxime Cressy on Tuesday, he won for the 26th time in his last 27 matches on the circuit in “official” competition, i.e. leaving the Laver Cup aside. The only exception was the quarter at Roland Garros on the Paris clay court. If his recovery from his Australian adventure was difficult, Djokovic has since become Djokovic again. “It’s not an ideal schedule but these are the circumstances I had to face. I had to accept them,” he said in an interview with Eurosport in Bercy.
IT’S VERY GOOD FOR TENNIS TO SEE SOMEONE LIKE ALCARAZ BECOME WORLD NUMBER ONE
But every cloud has a silver lining, even if he would have preferred things to be different. In tennis, you never have time because the season is so long that you play week after week from January to the end of November and this year I had time,” said the former world number one. I tried to use the time I had to rest and spend quality time with my family and work on my game. I liked the time I had to work on specific things in terms of tactics, and technique, no matter what, there is always something to work on.”
The other benefit of these forced absences is the desire that is his. Every time he appears, Djokovic needs to remind himself that he is still here. Even if he hadn’t shown any form of mental wear and tear, the circumstances never fail to tickle him. Especially when he sees a 19-year-old “kid” jumping at the chance to take the throne and become the youngest Grand Slam winner in 17 years.
Before the final of the Australian Open 2021 against Daniil Medvedev, the “Djoker” had, on Eurosport, addressed a nice little tackle to the new generation of men’s tennis. “We can talk about this all day if you want, but with all due respect, they still have a lot of work to do,” he said. Two days later, the Serbian beat Daniil Medvedev in the final. Since then, the water has flowed, Medvedev has joined the ranks of Grand Slam winners and, closer to home, so has Alcaraz. But at the end of the day, the handover is still going on and the Djokovic-Nadal duo is still running ahead of us rather than behind us.
But then again, the “Djoker” is rather welcoming the emergence of the “Next Next Gen”, led by the young Spaniard. First of all, I have a very good relationship with them,” he explains. I have respect for all tennis players and especially for those who reach the top of our sport because I know what it means in terms of sacrifice, dedication. It’s inevitable after 15 years of dominance by Federer, Nadal, myself, Murray… I think it’s very good for tennis to see someone like Alcaraz become world number one and win the US Open. To see Rune, Sinner, etc…”
CONFIDENT ABOUT THE FUTURE OF TENNIS
“A lot of people are worried about the future of tennis after our generation,” he adds. Will people continue to watch? People have talked about a golden age for us (the Big 3), but Borg-McEnroe was also a golden age. Sampras-Agassi too. Others will come and, as difficult as it may seem, I think it’s possible that our records will be broken in the future. Alcaraz is clearly someone who can dominate tennis in the years to come. So all that is very good. But we old guys are still here.”
That’s no longer true for Roger Federer, but in his case, this newfound competition is a blessing for the home stretch of his career. “I’m not going to give up,” Djokovic promises. I’m going to make sure I kick their asses for as long as I can. They’ll kick my butt from time to time, but hopefully less often than I’ll kick theirs.”
If he can do that as early as this fall of 2022, he won’t be shy about it. Fresh as a daisy physically and psychologically after his sausage year, he’s even hungrier than in previous years at this time of the season. “I have a lot of good memories in Bercy and I really wanted to play here, so I hope I can have a great week and finish the season in the best way possible,” Djoko concluded. Just to kick some more butt, more or less pink. And to confirm this impression: when he is here, he is always the boss.
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