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The eight key facts we learnt from Djokovic’s latest L’Equipe interview
In a wide-ranging interview, the world No 1 gave a glimpse into his thoughts on his stunning 2021 campaign. Here are some of the things we learnt
Novak Djokovic has been hailed as the champion of champions by the French sports newspaper L’Equipe – recognising his achievements throughout 2021 as the greatest of any athlete. He spoke to them in an insightful interview reflecting on his year, including his win at the Australian Open, his battle with Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros, and his tears in New York as he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open. Here are eight of the most important things we learnt from the feature.
1. No comment about Australia
No question was allowed on his participation in the 2022 Australian Open. This has been a discussion point for months now as the state and federal government have made it clear that participants will need to be vaccinated unless they are entitled to a medical exemption. Djokovic has refused to be drawn on his vaccination status, saying it is a personal choice. After L’Equipe published their interview, Djokovic withdrew from the ATP Cup, to be held in Sydney.
2. Shocked by crowd support in New York
Djokovic’s reaction to the crowd at the US Open final was highly emotional. He has never been a fan favourite there and has always gone to Flushing Meadows ready to battle against an opponent as well as the audience. That was different in 2021, when a shellshocked Djokovic could do nothing against Daniil Medvedev – and found himself being urged on by the fans.
He says that he was mentally prepared to fight against the public like usual and that the love of the crowd impacted his energy on the court. He’s clear on the fact that he loves to be supported – but the support from the fans plus, of course, Medvedev being the best on the court on the day was too much for him.
3. No regrets about Olympics
Djokovic left without a medal – but doesn’t regret going to the Olympic Games. He lost to Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 in the bronze medal match having lost to Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the semi-final the day before, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.
He loved spending time with other athletes and was proud to represent Serbia, but it was not a good choice to be fully ready for the US Open. He was just out of gas from Zverev’s second set.
4. Feeling better after weeping in the US Open final
Djokovic’s tears in the US Open final were a surprise. He says that he felt better after he broke down in tears and he would probably have had a chance to counterpunch Medvedev earlier in the match.
“The only thing I regret about the US Open final is that I didn’t cry earlier,” he said.
He wept tears of joy for the support he received, but also tears of distress because he felt it was now so hard to win. He says that, for once, he said yes to a great dinner with his team after the match; usually he wants to be on his own after a defeat, but this time he spent a wonderful evening surrounded with his close colleagues and friends.
5. Intent to end season after 2021 US Open
Djokovic had considered concluding his season after the US Open, saying: “After New York, I thought I had finished my season. That was enough.”
He felt ready to go again after a week of rest in the Maldives with his wife and having a good reaction to his first steps at the gym. So he decided to give the rest of the year a shot.
6. Winning Australian Open was a ‘miracle’
Djokovic insists he had an abdominal tear in Melbourne. He says he didn’t practise at all and had to mix kinesio taping with high doses of painkillers just to get on court. He admits he was close to withdrawing from the tournament twice and finally his body got used to it in the semi-final and final.
“When I started to serve at the warm-up, I looked at Goran just to say ‘it won’t be possible’,” he recalled. “Winning the Australian Open was a miracle.”
7. Beating Nadal in Paris was highlight of the season
Djokovic says his 2021 Roland-Garros semi-final against old rival Rafael Nadal was the peak of his season, even ahead of his final against Stefanos Tsitsipas – about which he says, “Even with him leading two sets to love, I felt I had control and I could win.”
Nadal – the tournament’s third seed – had taken the first set, but Djokovic fought back in a gruelling match to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2.
“Against Rafa, that was the war,” he said. “An incredible intensity. One of my biggest victories.”
8. Medvedev and Zverev are Next Gen leaders
Djokovic is the youngest of the so-called Big Three, and acknowledges that there is plenty of interest in who might take on the mantle of world No 1 once he finally chooses to retire. With that in mind, Djokovic crowns Medvedev and Zverev as the leaders of the Next Gen. He likes them and respects them for their high level of play as well as their personalities.
“I love that Daniil is not politically correct, I can identify with him myself – same with Zverev,” he says.