Novak Djokovic says he is “aware of what’s on the line” as the prospect of earning his 21st grand slam title comes onto the horizon at Wimbledon.
After beating Cameron Norrie in four sets on Friday, Djokovic can pull ahead of Roger Federer and move within one major of the all-time leader Rafael Nadal if he overcomes Nick Kyrgios in Sunday’s men’s final.
“I don’t know how many grand slam opportunities to win the trophy I will still have, as I will have in a few days’ time,” the 35-year-old said. “I’m aware of what’s on the line. I mean, every match, every grand slam that I get to play at this stage of my career, there is a lot on the line. So, of course, I’m approaching it with positive attitude and self-belief and willingness to win. There’s no doubt about it.
“How do you balance that? Well, it’s really subjective. Every player is different. I can’t, and I don’t want to speak about all the details and routines that I have that make me feel well-balanced and prepared. But there are things that I do in order to make myself mentally, emotionally, and physically well-prepared.
“That’s not a guarantee because on the court a lot of things can happen. There’s so much going on, pressure and expectations. Sometimes you’re able to handle it better than your opponent; sometimes not.”
The Serb was in thoughtful mood following his match against Norrie, an ultimately straightforward victory coming after a troubled first set that was won by the Briton, buoyed a supportive home crowd.
Djokovic denied he had reacted to a combative spectator, saying: “I was blowing kisses at someone who likes me.” But he acknowledged that playing in front of crowds that want his opponent to win is one of the consistent challenges he faces. One, he also believes, that can give him a competitive edge.
“Every player that goes out on the court needs to adjust and adapt and accept circumstances and find solutions in order to win a tennis match” he said. “For me, arguably it’s on a different level because I have to deal with different things that are also off the court, the crowd being maybe on the side of my opponents most of the times.
“This is something that throughout my career I’ve been used to. The more you experience these kind of situations, not the better you feel, but just more prepared you feel. You know what to expect. It’s always really about handling your own nerves better than maybe your opponent is his own. This internal battle is always the greatest.
“In the practice sessions where you don’t have the crowds or expectations, you play great. Then you come to the match and you realise it’s amazing how the whole game can fall apart just because you feel you’re tense. Then no shots are really working properly, your feet are static and slow.
“Then something happens in a match, and all of a sudden it’s completely different and you’re flying, everything flows. All the time there are these, let’s say, challenges that you’re facing internally but also externally. It’s really a constant battle.
“I think it’s an amazing exercise to stay in the moment because being present is the best state an athlete is looking for. Then you are able to, I guess, exclude or switch off certain things and distractions and really focus only on the next point.”
For Norrie, playing in a semi-final against one of the game’s greats was an experience that bodes well for the future.
“I think it was obviously a good experience to play him. Especially the level he brings here at Wimbledon. It gives me a lot of confidence”, he said. “It’s nice to do it and experience it. I loved it, loved every moment of it. But, I mean, it doesn’t mean anything. I think I need to keep working hard and I’ve still got a lot of things I can improve on my game.”