A frustrated Novak Djokovic went hiking with his wife in France shortly after he lost at the French Open in June to an unseeded player. Their June hike up Mount Victoire took three hours, he said, after being asked what he had done to turn his year around after struggling to get back in the game following surgery in February. The hike was just a chance to recharge and take stock in all the changes in his life: The birth of his second child in September; the elbow surgery; and his less-than-stellar 6-6 record after returning to the tour, including the loss at the French Open.
"We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation."
When his thoughts turned to tennis and the emotion it "provokes" in him, "It was all positive," he said. "It just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards."
The trek up Mount Victoire appears to have been the right way to supercharge the Serb's comeback. A few weeks later he was back to winning the way he had become accustomed to prior to his elbow injury. He was runner-up at Queen's Club and a champion at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, Ohio. The momentum carried him all the way to New York, where he now sat with the U.S. Open trophy just inches away. He said he had expected his recovery from surgery to go quickly, but if someone had told him in February that he would win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open it would have been hard to believe.
"But, at the same time, there was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back on the desired level of tennis very soon," he said.
Djokovic reflected not just on the mountains he's been climbing, but also on his ranking among grand slam winners and his idol, Pete Sampras, as he enjoyed the media spotlight one last time as the fortnight in New York drew to a close. He now has 14 grand slams, putting him in a tie with Sampras. The two of them are now jointly third behind Roger Federer, with 20, and Rafael Nadal, with 17. He said there was a time when he was not happy to be in a rivalry with Federer and Nadal, but now recognizes how important it has been for them to push each other to the limit every time they play.
"I feel like these guys - rivalries with these guys, matches with Federer and Nadal - have made me the player I am," he said. To be in company with Sampras is especially meaningful because he's the player Djokovic idolized as a child. He said the first program he ever watched on television related to tennis was one of Sampras' early victories at Wimbledon. It inspired him to start playing tennis. The hike up the mountain was the most recent inspiration, he said, when a reporter asked for details, Djokovic further noted it was an inspiration to many famous Renaissance painters. "I strongly recommend you to climb it. Some great things will happen in your life, I think," he said.
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