For almost two decades, we have become accustomed to Novak Djokovic winning grand slams. But seeing the world No. 1 sobbing on the floor as he celebrated his Australian Open victory with his family and team was a first. He would later say he had “emotionally collapsed.”
The straight sets win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Melbourne on Sunday had historical significance. It was his 10th Australian Open, which made Djokovic only the second man to win more than 10 titles at a single slam, and a 22nd grand slam, a men’s record for major wins he now shares with Rafael Nadal. The victory also returned him to the world No. 1 spot for a record-extending 374th week.
Even as he returned to his seat on the court for the trophy presentation, Djokovic hid his face in a towel, the television cameras picking up the sound of his continued crying.
But talking to reporters after his victory, he explained the outpouring of emotion wasn’t just a reaction to what he had achieved but a response to what he had had to deal with over the last few weeks, too.
The 35-year-old said in his news conference: “Of course, when I went into my box, I just think emotionally collapsed there and teared up with especially my mother and my brother, when I gave them a hug, because up to that moment I was not allowing myself to, I guess, be distracted with things off the court or whatever was happening in dealing with an injury, things happening off the court, as well, that could easily have been a big disturbance to my focus, to my game.
“It required an enormous mental energy really to stay present, to stay focused, to take things day by day, and really see how far I can go.”
Last year, Djokovic was unable to defend his title after being deported from the country over his Covid-19 vaccination status. This year at Melbourne Park, he has had a hamstring injury and had to deal with the fallout of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of Russian supporters at the Australian Open, which Djokovic said required an “enormous amount of mental and emotional energy” to remain focused on tennis.
His father was not present in the players’ box for the final, a situation Djokovic said made them both sad.
“I thought the things will calm down in terms of media and everything, but it didn’t,” the Serb said.
“We both agreed it would probably be better that he is not there. That hurts me and him a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again.
“So it was not easy for him. I saw him after the match, of course. Yeah, he was not feeling his best, let’s say, even though he was very happy to hug me and of course with everything.
“I could see that he’s a bit sad. Look, it is what it is. I think in the end also what he told me is that it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match, and he’s here for me.
“If it’s going to be better for me as the outcome of the match so that he’s not in the box, then so be it. That was the whole conversation.
“In a way, I’m also sad that he was not there, present, in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end, we have a happy ending.”
Djokovic revealed his injury meant he was not optimistic heading into the Australian Open, the first grand slam of the year, saying it was “just a matter of survival of every single match, trying to take it to the next round.”
His coach Goran Ivanisevic told reporters Djokovic had “77 therapies a day” to try to heal the hamstring problem which had put his participation in doubt.
“Let me put it like this. I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, on Saturday when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee office and pull out of the tournament. But not him,” Ivanisevic said.
“He is from other space. His brain is working different. I’m with him four years, but it still sometimes how his brain work. He gave everything. 77 therapies a day. Every day was kind of better and better. I didn’t expect this. Honestly, I was shocked.”
From the fourth round onwards, Djokovic said, his leg started to feel better and he began to play his best tennis.
Now level with Nadal on the all-time men’s list for grand slams, Djokovic said he was “motivated to win as many slams as possible.”
“I really don’t want to stop here. I don’t have intention to stop here,” he said. “I feel great about my tennis. I know that when I’m feeling good physically, mentally present, I have a chance to win any slam against anybody.
“I don’t know how many more years I’m going to play or how many more slams I’m going to play. It depends on various things. It doesn’t depend only on my body.
“I think it’s extremely important for me to be, of course, first to have the support and love from the close ones, and ability to go and play and keep the balance with the private life, but at the same time have the mental clarity or – how should I say – aspirations to really strive to chase these trophies.
“Physically, I can keep myself fit. Of course, 35 is not 25, even though I want to believe it is. But I still feel there is time ahead of me. Let’s see how far I go.”