Many of you are aware of the ups and downs in the relationship between tennis and Olympism. Almost a founding member of the female presence in the games, it was only after Seoul 88 that a point of agreement was reached between the then still current amateur philosophy of competition and the inevitable presence of professional players as long as the real objective was to captivate audiences through the presence of the best figures, almost as if it were just another Grand Slam.
Indeed, in South Korea, Steffi Graf completed the so-called Golden Slam. In the conceptual antipodes, the men’s title went to the brilliant Miloslav Mečíř, the most amateur of the professionals.
From then on, not only did tennis grow so that no one could imagine games without their presence, but there is almost no shortage of world stars who have not climbed to any of the steps of the podium in either women’s and men’s singles or doubles and mixed doubles.
From Agassi, Federer, Nadal or Murray to the sisters Williams, Henin or Capriati, it’s hard to find icons of this sport who haven’t won gold medals at home.
Probably the real exception to the rule is the enormous Novak Djokovic, whose bronze medal from Beijing 2008 seems like little for the one who has just sealed his 24th Grand Slam title.
A few hours after winning in New York, a question about the possible retirement remarked -as if it were necessary- Novak Djokovic’s competitive spirit and his intention to always go for more. A mentality that led him to be one of the best in history, to break records and that allows him, for example, to imagine himself at 41 years old competing in the Olympic Games.
The revelation was made by Goran Ivanisevic, former number two in the world and current coach of the best racket on the planet. “You have to ask him that question. I don’t know,” the Croatian answered the question about whether the Serbian could retire if he won a 25th Grand Slam and admitted: “He’s thinking about playing in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. When are they? In 2028? That goes through his head.”
Ivanisevic said that for Novak “the Grand Slams and the Olympic Games are the most important tournaments” and imagined him on a court for a long time: “I would be surprised if I wasn’t close to him and didn’t see what he’s doing. But no, I’m not surprised. He loves challenges. I have been asked if he wins the Grand Slam 25 and, if he wins it, why not win the 26th? Always one more, always more. He takes great care of his body, he takes care of everything, every detail has to be perfect.”
The gold medal is one of the debts in Djokovic’s extraordinary career. He won bronze in Beijing 2008 and then Juan Martín del Potro left him off the podium in London 2012 and eliminated him in the first round of Rio 2016. The last Olympic frustration for the Serbian was in Tokyo 2020, where he arrived with the intention of winning the Golden Slam (the big four and the Olympic Games the same year) and from which he left without a medal.
Beyond the dream of Los Angeles, the closest and most real thing is just around the corner: Paris 2024. Perhaps, the last great chance of getting that elusive gold medal. “I look forward to it. I hope to be healthy for next year at the Olympic Games. I´ll be playing on clay at Roland Garros, so I’m familiar with those terrains. Hopefully the best Olympic result will come there,” Novak was excited in an interview he gave in March of this year and in which he spoke of this great strength: mentality.
“The desire has always been there. Without desire, I feel that there is no movement in any sense of that word. This is how I was raised and taught by some of the key people in my life, of course, including my parents and some of the coaches I had in the beginning... This type of mentality really helped me to always be so dedicated to the game. I always remind myself that it’s willpower and that the desire to succeed is the essential ingredient of the whole formula,” said Djokovic.
Los Angeles 2028 would find Novak at 41 years old. Impossible? For some time now, the Serbian has been planning what his career would be like at that time. “I would have to find family harmony, be healthy, maintain routines and keep everything in order. I will reduce the number of tournaments and I may be playing with 40 but focusing on the most important tournaments,” he explained in ‘In Depth with Graham Bensinger’ in May 2020 when he “only” had 17 big ones and he pointed out: “I don’t believe in limits. They are just illusions of your mind.”
We constantly talk about how mega-champions do to stay motivated in the face of a new challenge.
Clearly, for Nole, Paris 2024 represents the enormous illusion of reaching the only throne that until now has eluded him.