So he did it after all. A controversial 2022 meant there was a substantial chance that Novak Djokovic might retire not even as the best male tennis player, but after a strong 2023, he is set to go down in history as the best ever.
At 36, Djokovic again came close to achieving the one thing that has eluded him: a Grand Slam. Triumphs in Australia and France – one to equal Rafael Nadal, the other to pass him – were followed by a final for the ages in Wimbledon, but 20-year-old prodigy Carlos Alcaraz came out on top after a battle that went on for four hours and 43 minutes.
Another win at the US Open however moved Djokovic to 24 all-time Grand Slam titles, equalling a record set by the legendary Margaret Court. He is not done yet. Will it be 25, 26 … or why not 28 after 2024?
1 – At the time of writing, Djokovic has cemented himself as the No. 1 of the ATP Rankings once again. He has held that position for a record total of 392 weeks (and counting) over his career, so for more than seven calendar years.
2 – Novak has two younger brothers, Marko and Djordje, who also played professional tennis. Marko, 32, retired in 2019, having reached No. 571 in the world rankings, while Djordje, 28, barely made it to the pro circuit and quit at 20. He is now the tournament director of the Serbia Open.
3 – With the win at the French Open in 2023, Djokovic moved into uncharted territories by becoming the first man to win every Grand Slam at least three times. Another triumph in Paris would move him alongside Steffi Graf, the only tennis player to win four titles at every major tournament.
4 – When Novak was four, his parents Dijana and Srdjan gave him a mini-racket and a soft foam ball. That was where it all started.
5 – Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970, and Steffi Graf in 1988 – just five players in tennis history have reached a Grand Slam, so won all four major tournaments in the same year. Djokovic is not one of them yet.
6 – Novak was six years old when a Yugoslavian tennis coach and former pro Jelene Gencic first saw him play at a tennis camp. “This is the greatest talent I have seen since Monica Seles,” Gencic thought. She went on to train Novak until the age of twelve.
7 – Djokovic has seven titles from Wimbledon, regarded by many as the most prestigious of the major tournaments. William Renshaw and Pete Sampras also have seven, while Roger Federer stands alone with eight trophies.
8 – In 2022 and 2023, Djokovic missed a total of eight tournaments due to his stance against the Covid-19 vaccine. He was not allowed to participate in two Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open and the US Open in 2022) and six Masters tournaments. “I was never against vaccination, but I have always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body,” he said the the BBC.
9 – Novak met his future wife Jelena Ristic in high school and they began dating in 2005. They got married nine years ago in July 2014 and have two children; their son, Stefan, was born in October 2014, and their daughter Tara in September 2017.
10 – Djokovic has been most successful at the Australian Open, winning it ten times between 2008 and 2023. However, he is unlikely to match Rafael Nadal’s 14 wins in the French Open, the record for most wins at one Grand Slam tournament.
11 – A tennis champion can also be a polyglot. Novak claims to be able to speak a total of 11 different languages: Serbian, English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian.
12 – While Djokovic has won 24 Grand Slam titles, he has also lost twelve times in the final. Once, in his very first final in 2007, to Roger Federer; but also five times to Rafael Nadal, twice to Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, while once to Daniil Medvedev and now Carlos Alcaraz.
13 – In what was one of the greatest battles in tennis history, Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final in five sets 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12. Djokovic found himself facing defeat three times but never gave in. In the end, the 13th point sealed his 16th Grand Slam title. For Federer, it was his last final.
14 – A total of 14 coaches have been by Djokovic’s side. In order: Jelena Gencic (1993-1999), Nikola Pilic (1999-2003), Dejan Petrovic (2004-2005), Riccardo Piatti (2005-2006), Marian Vajda (2006-2017, 2018-2022), Mark Woodforde (2007), Todd Martin (2009-2010), Dušan Vemic (2011-2013), Boris Becker (2013-2016), Andre Agassi (2017-2018), Mario Ancic (2017), Radek Stepanek (2018), and Goran Ivaniševic (2019-…).
15 – The 2015 season of Djokovic is considered by many to be the greatest of all time. He reached 15 consecutive finals while winning three Grand Slam tournaments, six Masters tournaments, and the Tour Finals as well. His win percentage for the season was 93.2, while his career record is currently around 83 percent.
16 – Djokovic was just 16 in early 2006 while making his ITF Challenger debut. In his hometown Belgrade, he lost to Swiss player Marco Chiudinelli 3-6, 2-6. Chiudinelli went on to be No. 52 in the world rankings.
17 – Thanks to the efforts of Djokovic and his compatriots, Serbia became one of the 17 countries to win the Davis Cup in 2010. His two singles points decided the first-round match vs the USA and then the final vs France; Djokovic was faultless, going 7-0 over the tournament.
18 – Had things gone a little differently, Djokovic might have lined up for Great Britain instead. When Djokovic was 18, changing his tennis nationality was briefly on the cards. In the end, he decided to stay true to Serbia.
19 – Despite all of the success, Djokovic has won just a single Olympic medal – a bronze in Beijing 2008. He has contested a total of 19 matches at the Olympics, but after finishing third, he has come fourth twice (in London 2012 and again in Tokyo 2020) and lost in the first round in Rio 2016.
20 – In January 2008, it finally clicked for a 20-year-old Djokovic. He defeated Federer in the semi-finals 7-5, 6-3, 7-6, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga surprised Rafael Nadal in the other semi 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. The Frenchman started the final strongly, but Djokovic prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 to win his first Grand Slam trophy.
21 – Djokovic had another career-defining moment when a serious elbow injury severely influenced his ability to compete at the age of 30. After a six-month hiatus in 2017, he returned in early 2018 only to find out surgery was unavoidable; coming into Wimbledon 2018, he had fallen as far as No. 21 in the world rankings at one point. But everything clicked and he won his 13th Grand Slam title after another epic battle with Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
22 – In 1987, on the 22nd of May, Novak was born. His father Srdjan was a former professional skier working as a ski coach, who had met his mother Dijana in the ski resort of Brezovica a year earlier. Growing up in war-torn Serbia, Novak has attributed the early horrors as the reason he is able to compete at the very top.
23 – When Djokovic turned professional, Pete Sampras led the all-time standings with 14 Grand Slams. Djokovic had just one when Federer equalled and surpassed Sampras; King Roger made it up to 20. Then Nadal reached 20, then Djokovic. They were tied in late 2021. Nadal pulled away to 22 only for Djokovic to catch and pass him with his 23rd at the 2023 French Open.
24 – And then, at the US Open, number 24 – Djokovic reached heights reserved for only Margaret Court for the past 50 years. Where Federer and Nadal, and Serena Williams, and Steffi Graf failed, Djokovic succeeded.
One could easily picture Djokovic ending his career with more. 2024 awaits. Another chance at the Grand Slam, another chance at Olympic Gold. We are witnessing greatness.