PARIS — When Novak Djokovic was 7, the world of elite tennis was a distant place, seen solely on the tv display screen of his mother and father’ pizzeria in the Serbian mountains or the modest household condominium in Belgrade.
His two younger kids have a significantly better view.
On Sunday, as he hustled and contemplated his means via his rematch with Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic’s son, Stefan, 7, and daughter, Tara, 4, had been in the entrance row together with buddies, household and stuffed animals.
When Djokovic lastly prevailed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Paris Masters for the sixth time, he met Medvedev on the internet after which walked, beaming, towards his kids to embrace them in the stands.
“A special day for me,” Djokovic mentioned. “It’s the first time both my kids are together to watch a match of mine.”
It is among the perks of tolerating sporting excellence and one of many inspirations: to offer your offspring a reminiscence of you in full move.
“It’s one of the biggest reasons why I keep on playing,” Djokovic mentioned. “I always dreamed of having my children in the stands.”
His longtime rival Roger Federer, a father of 4, has reveled in the expertise. So have many main athletes, from soccer’s Tom Brady to ladies’s soccer’s Christie Pearce, in an period when extra superstars have discovered a strategy to keep longer on the high.
At 34, Djokovic is driving the identical wave and never but able to get off. He proved it in Paris, the place he rebounded from a demoralizing stretch that would have left him reeling.
After failing once more to win a medal on the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in August, Djokovic obtained inside one match of reaching a Grand Slam solely to lose the U.S. Open closing in straight units to Medvedev. Rod Laver stays the final man to win all 4 main singles titles in the identical yr. He accomplished the Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969, and judging by the regular enchancment of Medvedev and the brand new technology of males’s stars, it’s troublesome to think about that Djokovic could have one other probability to affix Laver’s membership.
But after seven weeks away from the tour, Djokovic reminded followers of his resilience, expertise and resourcefulness along with his efficiency in Paris.
He bolstered his declare to being the perfect males’s participant of this golden period by securing the year-end No. 1 rating for a report seventh yr, breaking his tie with Pete Sampras. He additionally broke one other tie with Rafael Nadal by profitable his thirty seventh Masters 1000 title and have become the primary man since Andre Agassi in 1999 to win the French Open and Paris Masters in the identical season.
Medvedev, the gangly Russian shock absorber, had seemed unstoppable as he rolled over a weary Alexander Zverev in Saturday’s semifinals, barely making an unforced error. Meanwhile, Djokovic had solely squeaked previous an impressed Hubert Hurkacz in a third-set tiebreaker in their semifinal, struggling for consistency off the bottom and in his personal service video games.
But Djokovic discovered a brand new stage and a brand new tactic towards Medvedev, borrowing a yellowing web page from tennis’s conventional playbook by serving and volleying 22 occasions and profitable 19 of the factors when he did.
It was an astute try to reap the benefits of Medvedev’s extraordinarily deep return place, but it surely nonetheless required Djokovic to make a sequence of brilliantly angled volleys and drop volleys to maintain the ball out of Medvedev’s lengthy attain. More spectacular was that the tactic continued to work all through the match even after Medvedev had an opportunity to regulate.
“It won Novak the match for sure,” mentioned Mark Petchey, the veteran coach and analyst. “It’s been a changeup strategy for Novak in the past, a surprise tactic, but Daniil knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop him.”
It helps that Medvedev slaps comparatively flat returns and passing pictures in contrast with a participant like Nadal, whose dipping topspin could make it more durable to hit decisive volleys. New paradigm? Probably not, but it surely was definitely efficient indoors on Sunday regardless of the comparatively heavy balls that, in idea, ought to have made winners harder to provide.
“He puts a lot of returns back in play, and he’s just so good at staying in the point and making you suffer and forcing you to do an unforced error,” Djokovic mentioned. “So you have to have in a way controlled aggression against him.”
He added, “I wanted to keep him on his toes, so he doesn’t know what’s coming up next, to be a little bit unpredictable.”
It is definitely simpler to shock Medvedev at this early stage of their rivalry than males whom Djokovic has confronted for greater than a decade, like Nadal and Federer. But although Djokovic and Nadal had a memorable duel this yr in Paris, with Djokovic prevailing in a four-set semifinal, Djokovic versus Medvedev has been essentially the most compelling rivalry of the yr.
Djokovic beat him in straight units in the Australian Open closing, misplaced in straight units in New York after which received their finest match but in Paris. It could be no shock in the event that they met as soon as extra this yr on the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, which can start on Sunday on one other indoor hardcourt.
They have develop into more and more comfy with one another and even educated collectively lately close to their Monte Carlo residences: a uncommon event for a No. 1 and No. 2 participant. Their assembly on the internet after Sunday’s closing was full of heat regardless of Medvedev’s disappointment, and Djokovic has maybe by no means applauded an opponent’s winners as usually as he did for Medvedev’s in Paris. That was in half as a result of the extent was so excessive, notably after they had been locked in baseline exchanges that each had been in a position to prolong far past the norm with their extraordinary defensive abilities.
“He’s probably my biggest rival in tennis at the moment,” Djokovic mentioned.
The query is whether or not both of them will make the lengthy journey to Melbourne for the Australian Open, the place the state authorities of Victoria has indicated that gamers will probably be required to be absolutely vaccinated for Covid-19. According to the ATP Tour, 25 % of the highest 100 singles gamers stay unvaccinated. Djokovic, who contracted the coronavirus in 2020, and Medvedev, who examined constructive for coronavirus in April, have declined to reveal whether or not they’re vaccinated. Both mentioned in Paris that they’d resolve whether or not to play the Australian Open after the match made its formal coverage clear.
“I don’t want to be part of the stories about the assumptions and what ifs,” Djokovic mentioned. (*1*)
The announcement is imminent, based on Tennis Australia, which can formally launch the match subsequent week with tickets happening sale on Nov. 19.
Skipping the journey could be no small sacrifice for Djokovic, who’s in pursuit of a twenty first Grand Slam singles title to interrupt his three-way tie with Federer and Nadal. Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, has received almost half of his majors on the hardcourts in Melbourne. Though he stays No. 1 after one other good and resilient season, he can sense the stress from under from Medvedev, 25, and his peer group, who haven’t any kids in tow simply but.
“He’s the leader of the next generation,” Djokovic mentioned. “They are already there, and they are challenging the three of us old guys, and we’re going to try to hang in there.”