34 Masters. 5 Year-End Championships. 17 majors. At least one title every year for 15 consecutive years. With his record-extending eighth Australian Open win against Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller, he also claimed the record of being the first man in the Open Era to win grand slam titles in 3 different decades. Novak Djokovic has a resume good enough to establish himself as one of the all-time greats.
Much can be contributed to Djokovic's 'mental prowess' behind his success. There are many landmark matches where two evenly matched opponents push each other to their limits to win, but the player who has the mental edge over the other player ends up winning. This is one aspect of Djokovic's game that he has mastered, where he is able to deliver in the clutch moments of a match, even if he is struggling in a significant portion of the match.
His performance against Thiem was no exception to his mental game. With 2-1 sets down, Djokovic historically never came back in a grand slam championship match in seven previous occasions, where he faced the same situation. With a commanding lead in the match, Thiem seemed to be in a comfortable position to capture his first grand slam by the end of third set. In the fourth set, Djokovic was facing a break point in the third game. Yet Djokovic was able to turn things around and by the end of the set, the control was taken over by Djokovic.
This is not the first occasion where 'Nole' survived the match despite facing a better player in the big chunk of a match. Last year in the Wimbledon final, Novak Djokovic faced an eight-time champion Roger Federer and a crowd that was emphatically cheering even when he just served a fault. Djokovic was able to win the match despite being two match points down (a feat he has achieved against Federer previously in 2010 and 2011 US Open semifinals).
Djokovic, for all his achievements, is still considered a polarising figure to the crowd. If one has to go by a thumb-rule on crowd behaviour on-court, one can observe that it will cheer for an underdog who is facing a leading player unless it is Roger Federer. Djokovic becomes an exception to the rule. When he faces an underdog, crowd cheers for an underdog. When he faces Federer, the crowd is overwhelmingly against him.
The crowd behaviour is also a major test for any player, especially against the player who's not supported and motivated by the crowd. This is where Djokovic tries to use that as a fuel despite throwing hints of frustration. After 2019 Wimbledon final, he admitted, “When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger,’ I hear ‘Novak’. It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that.”
The Australian Open Final this year established Thiem as a leading contender for all the major tournaments, ensuring the focus is beyond Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal. As the legendary players are getting older and with the likes Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev now giving them a tough competition, we can expect this decade to have an exciting era in tennis. And this is where the key for all these players will lie not on their physical agility, but mental ability.