Tearful Novak Djokovic felt relief and sadness after his Grand Slam dream died with a US Open final defeat, overcome by loss but winning heartfelt support from New York fans.
World number one Djokovic missed the first calendar-year Slam since 1969 at the final hurdle Sunday, losing to Russia’s second-ranked Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Relief. I was glad it was over,” Djokovic said about his feelings in the moments after the defeat.
“The buildup for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle,” Djokovic said.
“I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time I felt sadness, disappointment, and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment that they created for me on the court.”
Djokovic also missed out on a fourth US Open title and 21st career Grand Slam, leaving him deadlocked on the men’s record 20 Slam trophies with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
THE MODERATOR: If you could –
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Maybe we go with questions better.
THE MODERATOR: You want to go with questions?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes. They’re going to ask me about the match.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Can you explain your emotion in the moment and at the end of the match? I saw you beginning to tear up at the last changeover.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: So many different emotions. What I said on the ceremony, I really mean it. Of course, part of me is very sad. It’s a tough one to swallow, this loss, I mean, considering everything that was on the line.
But on the other hand I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not know, I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever. I mean, that’s the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special.
They touched my heart, honestly. Of course, in the end of the day you want to win. You’re a professional athlete. These are the kind of moments that you cherish. These are connections that you establish with people that will be lasting for a very long time.
Yeah, it was just wonderful.
Q. What was it about Medvedev’s serve today that was so special or difficult?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I mean, he was hitting his spots very well. He came out very determined on the court. You could feel that he was just at highest of his abilities in every shot. He had a lot of clarity what he needs to do tactically. He has executed it perfectly.
The other hand, I was just below par with my game. My legs were not there. I was trying. I did my best. Yeah, I made a lot of unforced errors. I didn’t have – no serve really.
If you’re playing someone like Medvedev who hits his spots so well, just aces, gets a lot of free points on his first serve, you’re constantly feeling pressure on your service games.
I was below par with everything, to be honest. So just one of these days where unfortunately, yeah, wasn’t meant to be.
Q. You said in Paris down two sets to Stefanos that you felt if you could just get one break you could win the match. Did you feel that way today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It was different because my feeling on the court was not as good as the one that I had in Paris. Just energy-wise I felt slow.
But there was a turning point in the beginning of the second I feel like. Some breakpoints there, opening service games of Medvedev in the second set. There was some Love-40. Just one shot here and there... I was very close.
Who knows the trajectory of the match if you would make a break in the second early. With the crowd, with the support, probably I would feel maybe different.
But he did so well. I mean, he was amazing. Just congratulate him, full credit from his mentality, his approach, his game, everything. He absolutely was the better player and deserved to win, no doubt about it.
Of course I’m disappointed with the overall game that I performed today. I know I could have and should have done better. But it’s sport, you know. You win some, you lose some. It’s a tough loss, very tough loss. But at the same time I’m happy for him because he’s a nice guy and he deserves it. He really does.
Q. Zverev inserted himself in the conversation at the top in Tokyo. Now you have Daniil winning a major. Do you see us going into a time of transition in the coming year, a shake-up at the top of the game?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think it has already started in a way, with Dominic Thiem winning here last year. Daniil, I don’t know if he’s No. 1 now or is soon-to-be No. 1. Look, it’s normal. The transition was inevitable.
The older guys are still hanging on. We’re still trying to shine the light on the tennis world as much as we possibly can. I’m speaking on my own behalf. I still want to keep going, try to win more slams, play for my country. Those are the things that motivate me the most I think at this point.
But the new generation, if you want to call them this way, is not anyone new. It’s already current, established. Of course, they are going to take over. I think tennis is in good hands because they’re all nice guys and very, very good, high-quality tennis players. They got something to offer on and off the court.
We are hoping that the transition will be smooth in terms of the attention and the popularity of this sport. It’s very important. We all, of course, want to win on the court, but at the same time we all at the top represent this sport. We need to be aware of that, take this responsibility and try to bring more fans to the world of tennis.
At the end of the day that’s what counts and that’s what keeps our sport alive. That’s what gives an opportunity to younger players or lower-ranked players to live out of this sport. We’ve got to do a better job there, absolutely. I think at the top of the men’s game things are looking really good. I think at the grassroots we got to do a much better job collectively, so...
Hopefully that will be the case.
Q. Did the other matches catch up with you as well today? The five-setter against Sascha, that run of four-setters, did that have any effect on you today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Could be. Could be. I had more hours on the court spent from Daniil, that’s for sure. But was also emotionally very demanding period for me in the last five, six months. Slams and Olympics and playing at home in Belgrade. Everything was coming together for me here and kind of accumulating all the emotions that I’ve been through.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it in the final step. But when you draw a line, you have to be very satisfied with the year. Three wins, three slams and a final. For the last couple of years I’ve been very transparent and vocal about my goals, to play my best tennis at slams. I’m managing to do that.
Of course, I was short today for another slam title, but I have to be proud with everything that my team and I have achieved. And in tennis we learn very quickly how to turn the next page. Very soon there are some more challenges, more things that are coming up. I have learned to overcome these kind of tough losses in the finals of slams, the ones that hurt the most.
I’ll try to take, draw some lessons from them, learn, be stronger, and keep going, keep going. I still love this sport and I still feel good on the court. As long as there is motivation and that flair, I’ll keep riding.
Q. After the journey that you just described, what were the thoughts and emotions that you experienced when you were sitting courtside after the match today?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Relief. I was glad it was over because the buildup for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle.
I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time I felt sadness, disappointment, and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment that they’ve created for me on the court.