“He’s the best player in the world, no doubt,” Novak Djokovic reflected after his defeat to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final four months ago. If the 36-year-old was setting himself a challenge, the past four months have shown how Djokovic responded: faced with a new rival at this stage of his career, Djokovic has risen again. He finishes the year as the undisputed World No 1, the best player in the world, and still the one to beat ahead of 2024.
On Sunday in Turin, Djokovic capped another dominant season by writing another record into the history books. His straight-sets victory over Jannik Sinner secured a seventh ATP Finals crown and added to victories at three of the four grand slams this year. It was only that five-set defeat to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final, the one that got away, that denied a ‘grand slam’.
The ATP Finals ensured he finished with a flourish, and a symbolic one at that. After securing the year-end No 1 ranking at the start of the week, Djokovic admitted that he allowed his level to dip and the Serbian was left requiring some good fortune to even progress from the round-robin stage.
But the semi-finals and final presented Djokovic with an opportunity to deliver an emphatic message. He first crushed Alcaraz in two sublime sets, producing the most one-sided scoreline yet in what was the fifth match of their rivalry. Then faced with Sinner, the home favourite in Turin who defeated Djokovic in the group stages, the 36-year-old raised his level again. Watching on for Amazon Video, Tim Henman said Djokovic played “some of the best tennis I have ever seen” in the 6-3 6-3 win.
It is not a coincidence that Djokovic saved his peak for the 20-year-old Alcaraz, a player Djokovic has praised as the most complete opponent he has faced, and the 22-year-old Sinner, who the Serbian sees as a future No 1. Sinner underlined his standing as the year’s most improved player with his first-ever victory over the 24-time grand slam champion earlier in the week, roared on by his home fans in northern Italy, but was tamed by Djokovic’s ruthlessness and unerring accuracy in Sunday’s final.
“I’ve been very proud of the past two performances, against Alcaraz and Sinner, the best two players in the world – next to me and [Daniil] Medvedev at the moment,” Djokovic said after his record-breaking ATP Finals victory. It is clear ahead of 2024 that Djokovic expects to face not only Alcaraz but Sinner as well in grand slam finals next season – and his performance in Turin showed just how motivated Djokovic remains to continue to deny the hopes and dreams of the younger generation while he still can.
And in 2024, Djokovic will be driven by the ultimate goal and the chance to claim a record that only comes around every four years – given he will be 41 in 2028, perhaps this will be the last time as well.
But the Paris Olympics looms at the end of July. The Olympic gold medal is the only major title Djokovic has not won in his career and it would form the cornerstone of his ‘golden slam’ attempt of winning all four grand slams and the Olympics in a single year – a feat achieved only by Steffi Graff in 1988, never before by a male player.
Djokovic was matter of fact. In 2021, he arrived in Tokyo having won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, only for his dream to crumble in the semi-finals after a defeat to Alexander Zverev. By the US Open, Djokovic was exhausted and the grand slam evaporated too with defeat to Medvedev in New York.
But Djokovic manages his schedule differently now. His plan for 2024 will focus exclusively around the five gems in the golden slam crown.
“Well, you can win four slams and an Olympic gold,” he said. “I have always the highest ambitions and goals. That’s not going to be different for the next year. The drive that I have is still there. My body has been serving me well, listening to me well. I have a great team of people around me. Motivation, especially for the biggest tournaments in sport, is still present. It still inspires me to keep going.”
The competition is inspiring, too. But as Alcaraz achieved the impossible at Wimbledon, and then as Sinner threatened to do the same in Turin, Djokovic raised the standard again. No doubt, he’s the best player in the world.