Novak Djokovic believes his rivalry with Roger Federer has shaped him into the player he is today and insists that overcoming the Swiss was one of the ultimate challenges he has faced in his career.
The Serb booked his spot in the quarter-finals of the US Open with a straight sets win over Joao Sousa on Monday and faces the prospect of a 47th meeting with the world No. 2, should he defeat John Millman in the night session.
Djokovic and Federer have produced some fascinating matches over the years, with the 13-time Grand Slam champion leading their head-to-head 24-22.
Along with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, Djokovic believes Federer has had the greatest impact on his career, pushing him to reach dizzying heights that have left him considered as one of the finest players ever to hold a racquet.
And as he prepares for another potential chapter to their story, the sixth seed reflected on his rivalry with the 20-time major winner.
Well, next to Nadal, my biggest rival Ive had throughout my professional career. The matches Ive played against him have shaped me into the player that I am today, he said after his 6-3 6-4 6-3 win over Sousa.
Both, matches against Nadal and Federer, and Murray as well, have made me the player I am today because those were the guys that I always wanted to win against because those were the guys I had to beat in order to be the No. 1, to win slams, and have the career that I had behind me.
At the beginning of the career, I probably wasnt seeing things that Im seeing them now in terms of being in an era with these guys.
Now Im grateful that I was, that I still am, in the era with these guys, that I get a chance to witness their greatness as well, their rivalry, Nadal and Federer, which is the biggest rivalry, one of the biggest, of all time, and at the same time to be competing against them on such a big stage every year for a long time.
When asked which matches stood out in their rivalry, he added: It would probably be Wimbledon finals that Ive had against him in 14 and 15. Youre probably wondering why I remember those two, because I won both. I remember some great matches we played here, as well.
At the earlier stages of my professional career, Ive lost to Roger more than I have won in terms of those big matches. He was just always so good in the most important matches, most important tournaments. He never seemed to drop a level of his tennis.
To me, at the beginning of my career, professional career, I was struggling to have that consistency of the high level. Thats where, you know, I had to sit down with the team and figure out the way what it takes to win against him, what do I need to improve in my game, my mental approach, mental strength, just ability to cope with the pressure in those moments and try to prevail.
That was probably one of the ultimate challenges that Ive ever had in my career.
While being behind both Nadal and Federer in the all-time Grand Slam winners list, Djokovic holds a winning head-to-head record against the pair.
He has beaten them both in 2018 – including a win over Federer in Cincinnati just a matter of weeks ago – and believes that a couple of victories can lead to a mental advantage.
I was behind in head-to-head with both of these guys up to recently, he said. I managed to win some big matches against them in the last couple of years, but also lost some.
Theres no particular rule, so to say, of direction or trajectory of the rivalry. Weve witnessed, you know, throughout our rivalries that its almost 10, 15 years, there are periods and intervals, so to say, where I win couple matches in a row, then they win couple matches in a row. It just goes in swings, I guess, a little bit.
But once you win more than a match against your top rival, you start to feel like you have maybe a little bit of a mental advantage. It just depends, again, on how you feel playing against them, which kind of surface it is, what part of the year, so forth.
Many different, so to say, elements that play a role in these particular matches, and very few points really. Very few details decide winner of those matches.
But I said, I mean, I really feel like their rivalry is really special because of the contrast of styles, just what they brought. I feel my rivalry, with Nadal especially, is quite amazing, as well.
We played most matches against each other than any other two tennis players ever in the game, which is amazing.