By Jill Gralow
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Driven by having started out in life with “literally nothing”, Novak Djokovic is determined to end up as the man with the most Grand Slam singles titles when he finally hangs up his racket.
The Serbian claimed his 17th when he beat Austrian Dominic Thiem to win an eighth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park on Sunday. That put him third on the list behind Swiss great Roger Federer, who has won 20, and Spaniard Rafa Nadal, who has 19.
Djokovic said he was mindful that he, 38-year-old Federer and 33-year-old Nadal were being hunted down by a younger generation of players led Thiem, Alex Zverev, Stephanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev.
The 32-year-old says, however, that careful career management will mean he can keep challenging for the game’s major prizes and said finishing with more of them than Federer and Nadal was his goal.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s not, of course it is,” the world number one told reporters in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens on Monday.
“I understand that I’m not in my twenties so obviously things are a bit different and I have to be just more precise and more organized in my preparations for the Grand Slam and prioritize these tournaments.
“I’m thrilled to be in a position to be in the mix for most Grand Slam titles at this stage of my career and professionally that’s what matters the most.”
Forced to come from 2-1 down for the first time in an Australian Open final to beat Thiem on Sunday, Djokovic told the post-match news conference that his hunger for success came from growing up in a time of conflict and privation.
“My upbringing was in Serbia during several wars during ’90s,” he said.
“(It was a) difficult time, (there was an) embargo in our country where we had to wait in line for bread, milk, water, some basic things in life.
“That probably has been my foundation, the very fact that I came from literally nothing and difficult life circumstances together with my family and with my people.
“Going back to that, reminding myself where I came from always inspires me, motivates me to push even harder.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why I managed to find that extra gear or necessary mental strength to overcome challenges when they present themselves.”
Djokovic added another A$4.12 million ($2.84 million) to his considerable fortune on Sunday but said it would not be until he retired that he would have time to appreciate what he had managed to do on the tennis court.
“I will probably understand more fully all these achievements when I retire and have a little more time and space,” he said.
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)