Novak Djokovic says his biggest battle is internal as he fights to extend his domination of men’s tennis — even if his supremacy is not always appreciated by the fans.
The Serbian world number one hit a level rarely seen in tennis as he yet again dismissed the great Roger Federer to reach his fifth straight Grand Slam final at the Australian Open.
Djokovic destroyed Federer in two opening sets which he described as “flawless”, on the way to a consummate 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory on Rod Laver Arena late on Thursday.
The 10-time major winner said the first two sets were the best he has ever played against the Swiss legend, who looked helpless against the onslaught before staging a short-lived rally in the third set.
Djokovic, 28, coming off an astonishing 2015 which fell only one win short of a calendar-year Grand Slam, continues to put a space between himself and the rest, including the record 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer, 34.
For the first time in his long-running rivalry with Federer, which includes 45 matches and dates back a decade to 2006, he has edged to the front with 23 wins to 22.
Djokovic, who will play either Andy Murray or Milos Raonic for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open crown, said it was more a case of struggling with himself than his opponents on court.
“At the end of the day you are battling yourself the most. There are so many players out there who are hitting the ball well,” said Djokovic, now in his 183rd week as the world number one.
“Whether or not you’re able to cope with the pressure in these particular moments, fighting against some of the best players in the world for the major trophy, of course there’s a lot at stake.
“Emotions are going up and down. It’s important to keep it together. You go throughout the match, and even before the match, through different thought processes.
“Even though sometimes it seems unnatural, you need to keep pushing yourself to be on the positive side.”
– Popular Roger -Djokovic, who will match Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg with 11 Grand Slam titles if he wins Sunday’s final, leaving only four players ahead of him on the all-time list, said he intended to stay on top for as long as he can.
“To sustain that level and throughout the year to be actually consistent requires a lot more than just a good game,” he said.
“I’m going to try to stay here as long as possible. That’s from my perspective what I can influence, what I can do.
“Whether or not I’m going to be dominant in the years to come, I don’t know. I cannot give you an answer on that. I can try to do my best to try to keep playing on this level.”
Yet as supreme as he is, Djokovic is still not as appreciated by Australian crowds as much as Federer, as evidenced again in Thursday’s semi-final when the crowd was whole-heartedly behind the Swiss.
The Serb diplomatically denies any offence is taken, but rather says Federer’s popularity is well deserved because of his rich resume.
“Look, I try not to focus on that. I feel like I’m enjoying lots of support around the world,” he said.
“When I play Roger it’s something that is expected in a way considering his career and his greatness on and off the court, what he has done for the sport.
“He’s loved. He’s appreciated. He’s respected around the world. For me it’s normal in a way.
“I’m trying obviously to enjoy my time, to do the best that I can with the tennis racquet, but also focus on the positive energy rather than negative, rather than getting frustrated for that. There’s no reason.