Novak Djokovic paid tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant following his 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open as he vowed to continue playing.
Djokovic secured a fourth title at Flushing Meadows to move level with Margaret Court’s record of major titles when he beat Daniil Medvedev in straight sets.
The 36-year-old capped another dominant year, during which he won the Australian and French Opens and was runner-up to Carlos Alcaraz at Wimbledon, by becoming the oldest champion at Flushing Meadows in the Open era.
Even Medvedev, whose challenge ended after he lost a marathon 104-minute second set, asked: “What are you still doing here? I mean come on.”
But Djokovic insisted: “I’m going to keep going. You know, I feel good in my own body. I still feel I’ve got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family.
“The Grand Slams, I have said in the last few years, have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season. I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to prioritise my preparation so that I can peak in slams.
“These are the moments and these are the kind of emotions that I motivate myself with every single day when I’m not playing a tournament.
“Yeah, occasionally I ask myself ‘why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going?’ I do have these questions in my head, of course.
“But knowing that I play at such a high level still, and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top, you know, if I’m still playing the way I’m playing.”
After winning the title Djokovic put on a blue T-shirt that honoured the Los Angeles Lakers great. The shirt read “Mamba Forever” on the front, along with pictures of Bryant and Djokovic.
On the back in purple was the number 24, which Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career.
Djokovic said he received advice on his own career from Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter, Gianna, and seven others three years ago.
“Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game,” Djokovic said. “He was one of the people that I relied on the most.
“He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way,” Djokovic continued.
“So of course what happened a few years ago and him and his daughter passing hurt me deeply, and I thought 24 is the jersey he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball, so I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him for all the things he’s done.”
Medvedev conceded he will leave Flushing Meadows full of regret after failing to rise to the occasion in the final.
“Regrets, for sure,” he said. “Second set was the best set I played and I didn’t win it.
“So that’s why it’s normal that the match went that way, because first and third he was kind of better. The second, if I would win it, maybe it could have been a different game.
“Yeah, that’s how life is and how tennis is. So I’m going to try to be better next time.”
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