The 24-time major champion gives rare insight into his champion’s mentality and his relations with Federer and Nadal.
By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday December 11 2023
Novak Djokovic opened up on a wide range of tops in an interview with Jon Wertheim on 60 minutes, the Serb dishing on everything from his feelings about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the formative years of his career, to the inspiration that he takes from keeping the younger generation under his thumb.
Watch the full video below:
On his young rivals, Djokovic said: “It’s a great opportunity for me to reinvent myself and really push harder than I ever did. I think the young guys who are very hungry and very inspired to play their best tennis against me is an additional motivation. I think they kind of awaken a beast in me.”
Djokovic admitted that losing to Alcaraz in a five-set final at Wimbledon, where he was bidding to tie Roger Federer on the all-time title list at SW19 with eight, left a bitter taste in his mouth. But he quickly remedied it.
“That pissed me off so much that I needed to win everything on American soil, which I did,” Djokovic told Wertheim.
Djokovic would like to be close to Federer and Nadal
In a segment that didn’t air on the show, Djokovic talked about his rivals Federer and Nadal, and described his desire to have a close, enduring relationship with both when his career is over.
“I would like to. I would really like to,” Djokovic said about developing a more friendly relationship with Roger and Rafa, before explaining why now is not the time to do that. “Personally, I would like to. I know that obviously we didn’t get along so well throughout our careers. And we are not friends because we’re rivals and it’s difficult as competitors to be very close and kind of share and give insights to you know, to your life or to how you feel because it could be used against you.”
Djokovic also reflected on how he felt intimidated by Nadal and Federer during the early years of their rivalries. He recalls watching Nadal sprint around the locker Room at Roland-Garros and being irritated by it.
“I [could] even hear the music he’s listening to, you know, in his headphones,” Djokovic said. “So, you know, it [was] pissing me off.”
The 24-time major champion says he used it as motivation in the end.
“Early in my career, I didn’t realize how all that’s part of the scenario, right? So I was getting intimidated by that,” Djokovic said. “But it’s also motivating me to do stuff myself and to show that I’m ready, you know? I’m ready for a battle, for a war.
Djokovic: ‘I don’t like this kind of mindset that I see a lot in sports: just think positive, be optimistic, there is no room for failure & doubts… You are a human being. [What makes] the biggest champions is the ability to not stay in those emotions for too long’
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) December 11, 2023
The Secret to Djokovic’s Mental Strength? Practice!
Djokovic corrected Wertheim when he was told that one of his greatest gifts was his mental strength. “It’s not a gift,” he said. “It’s something that comes with work.”
Djokovic says that his ability to leave tension behind him has helped him deal with the stress that comes with fighting for the sports’ biggest titles on a regular basis. He practices letting his tension go and reclaiming his stability on court.
“The difference, I guess, between the guys who are able to be the biggest champions, and the ones that are struggling to get to the highest level is the ability to not stay in those emotions for too long,” Djokovic said. “So for me, it’s really relatively short. So as soon as I experience it, I acknowledge it. I maybe, you know, burst. I scream on the court, whatever happens. But then I’m able to bounce back and reset.”