By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – No sooner had Novak Djokovic claimed his 17th Grand Slam trophy by triumphing at the Australian Open for the eighth time on Sunday, the Serb was already setting himself a deadline to claim the record of major titles.
Djokovic’s 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 victory in a thriller over fifth seed Dominic Thiem drew him within three slams of Roger Federer’s haul of 20 and two behind second-placed Rafa Nadal’s 19.
“I think in order to have a chance and have a go for the historic number one I am going to try to do everything possible this season and next season maximum,” Djokovic said in front of ecstatic Serbian fans at Melbourne Park.
“That is what I can devote in terms of time and energy towards accomplishing that goal.”
Like Federer who reduced his schedule after reaching his thirties to prolong his career, the 32-year-old Djokovic also expects to wind down and spend more time with his young children in the not-too-distant future.
“I guess they are coming to an age where I really want to spend time with them and be the best possible father, and not be on the road all the time,” he said.
“I am coming closer to the stage where I have to adjust to that. I have to probably play less.”
Twelve years after claiming his maiden title at Melbourne Park, Djokovic remains at the peak of his game.
His win over Thiem secured the world number one ranking, dislodging Nadal from the top spot.
It also extended tennis’ Big Three’s dominance over the Grand Slams for another few months. He, Nadal and Federer have between them won 13 major titles in succession.
It was a rocky path to his 17th slam triumph, however.
He was suddenly listless and collapsed in a funk midway through the match. He took a medical time-out while under huge pressure by Thiem.
It fanned accusations of gamesmanship from some tennis pundits but Djokovic, whose team delivered extra drinks to him during the match, said he was suffering from dehydration.
“The liquids were magic potions that my physio prepares in his lab. That’s all I can say,” Djokovic quipped in reference to his eventual rally.
With the fans resolutely in Thiem’s corner, Djokovic also lost his cool with the crowd for not staying quiet during play and growled at the chair umpire after being called for two breaches of the serve clock in the second set.
He patted the chair umpire sarcastically on his sneaker after dropping serve and congratulated him for making himself “famous”.
“These kind of things in games switch the momentum of the match,” Djokovic, who lost six games in succession after being called, told reporters.
“I didn’t know that (touching) is completely forbidden. I thought it was a nice, really friendly touch,” he added with a smile.
“I want to thank him for not giving me a warning for touching him. That’s all I can say.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)