Djokovic motivated by talk of catching Federer in Slams

Jim SLATER
AFP
Novak Djokovic is seeking a fourth US Open title in New York (AFP Photo/MATTHEW STOCKMAN)
Novak Djokovic is seeking a fourth US Open title in New York (AFP Photo/MATTHEW STOCKMAN)

New York (AFP) - Top-ranked defending champion Novak Djokovic takes inspiration from talk he could pass Roger Federer for the all-time record total of men's Grand Slam singles titles.

The 32-year-old Serbian star sees, however, all the work yet to come before that happens, even as he prepares to chase another crown at the US Open starting Monday in New York.

"I'm aware of it, of course. I mean, I'm part of this world. Of course I can't completely switch off and eliminate what people are talking about. And it's flattering, obviously," Djokovic said.

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"But at the same time, it's still a very long way ahead of me. It does also put a certain level of responsibility to me as well, because I'm aiming to do that. You know, it's definitely one of my ambitions and goals.

"Things are a little bit different than they were ten years ago, but I still feel young inside and outside. And I still am very motivated to keep going... especially now, more or less everything is about Grand Slams."

Djokovic, who defeated Federer in an epic five-set Wimbledon final last month for his 16th Grand Slam crown, remains four behind the 38-year-old Swiss star's mark, with Spaniard Rafael Nadal between them with 18 Slam trophies.

But Djokovic is on a roll, having won four of the past five Slam singles titles, including a victory over Juan Martin del Potro in last year's US Open final. It was his third US Open crown after 2011 and 2015.

Djokovic, who launches his 2019 campaign on Monday against Spain's 76th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena, says his success at night before the loud and raucous fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium has helped him thrive in New York.

"I've not lost too many matches in my career playing night session," he said. "So I really do enjoy that loud atmosphere that happens in there.

"You just adjust to it. You adapt to it. You accept it. You embrace it. I do embrace it because I think it's good for our sport to have various different atmospheres on the center courts of four different Slams."

- Gimelstob exit 'best' -

Djokovic also addressed an issue that sparked friction between himself and players on the ATP Council for not ruling out a possible council return by disgraced former player Justin Gimelstob.

The American pleaded no contest to assault charges in Los Angeles earlier this year for attacking a man in front of his wife and children at Halloween in 2018.

"He has taken the responsibility for his actions and what has happened that night," Djokovic said Saturday. "So he went back to deal with this himself. Obviously there is a lot of work in his private life that needs addressing. And that's all there is.

"You know, he's not part of the ATP political system at the moment, and I think it's for the best for all of us. What future holds for him and for us, we don't know. But I'm still in touch with him. He's going to try to handle this matter in best possible way. I really wish him all the best.

"It's unfortunate that that has happened. Because I think he was a great asset, as I was mentioning in Wimbledon and before, for the players. But he has taken the responsibility."

Djokovic praised the arrival on the council earlier this month of Nadal and Federer, marking the first time the world's three top players have been on the board.

"There has already been a big impact on the rest of the players... knowing that these two guys are willing to contribute, to come in to help out, to support, to participate in discussions and some decision making," Djokovic said.

"All I hear from other players is positive comments about it. And it went well. They were very engaged. So looking forward to work with them."

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