By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic has no intention of passing the torch to the next generation just yet, the 36-year-old Serb proving age is just a number by becoming the oldest man in the Open Era to hoist the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday.
With Roger Federer retired and the oft-injured Rafa Nadal ready to call it quits after next season, the days of the ‘Big Three’ are long gone but Djokovic – the final member of that triumvirate – reminded fans in New York that he is far from finished.
His 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Russian Daniil Medvedev brought him not only a fourth Flushing Meadows title but a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown, and Djokovic wants more.
“Occasionally asking myself, why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going? I do have these questions in my head, of course,” said Djokovic.
“Knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, yeah, I don’t want to get rid of this sport or I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top.”
Djokovic swatted side some of the United States’ brightest young stars en route to the final, beating 25-year-old Taylor Fritz in the quarters and 20-year-old Ben Shelton in the semis.
In Medvedev, however, he faced an older foe, and one who gave him the chance to exorcise his demons – two years earlier the Russian had ended his bid for a calendar Grand Slam on the very same court.
Djokovic did not squander that opportunity, smothering the 27-year-old in a series of exhausting rallies.
“My team, my family knew that the last 24 hours, don’t touch me, don’t speak to me about, you know, the history of what’s on the line,” he said.
“I really did my best to keep things quite simple and stick to the routines that brought me to where I am and treat this match really as any other match where I just need to win.”
He drew level with Spain’s Nadal when he secured his 22nd major title in Australia and took the men’s record outright when he beat Casper Ruud to hoist the trophy at Roland Garros.
Carlos Alcaraz, 16 years his junior, thwarted his bid for a 24th title at Wimbledon and that defeat prompted Djokovic to suggest that perhaps his time had come, that the next generation was about to overtake him.
But after winning in Cincinnati and scything his way through the Flushing Meadows draw Djokovic showed there would be no changing of the guard just yet.
“You know, players come and go,” he said. “It will be the same kind of destiny for me. Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years.
“And there is going to be new young players coming up. Until then, I guess you’ll see me a bit more.”
AGONY AND ECSTASY
Sunday’s win will also go a long way to banishing some of Djokovic’s less fond memories of New York.
He won in 2018 but his title defence the following year ended in the fourth round with an injured shoulder and a chorus of boos from the stands ringing in his ears.
There were no fans present in the COVID-quieted 2020 edition when he was disqualified in the fourth round after his petulant swipe at a ball saw him inadvertently strike a line judge in the throat.
More misery followed in 2021 when he was reduced to tears by Medvedev in the final, and U.S. travel restrictions left him unable to travel to the tournament in 2022 due to his decision not to get the COVID vaccine.
On Sunday, however, there was nothing but complete joy for Djokovic, who was already assured of a return to the top of the world rankings when they are updated later on Monday.
As he basked in the glory of his win, Djokovic had no words of comfort for those hoping to replace him.
“It’s not my interest and neither business to really review what everyone talks about or thinks, whether there is a passing of the torch or new gen, next gen, future gen, whatever you want to call it, happening or not happening in the sport,” he said.
“I focus on what I need to do and how I get myself in an optimal state so that I can win the biggest trophies in our sport. That’s what I care about.” (Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford )