Novak Djokovic says staying in the moment and managing challenging situations are his secret weapons in coping with the emotions and pressure of trying to make tennis history.
The world number one advanced to the second round of the US Open on Tuesday by ousting Danish teen qualifier Holger Rune 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-1.
Djokovic is trying to win the US Open to complete the first men’s singles calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 and reach a men’s career record 21 major titles.
“You have tons of expectations and pressure from just the whole tennis community, including myself,” Djokovic said. “Obviously I would like myself to win the title and make the history. Without a doubt that’s something that inspires me.”
Handling the mental toughness means not getting ahead of himself during a two-week fight to reach the final, for only there can history be made.
“I am focused on trying to be the best version of myself every day,” Djokovic said. “There’s a great power in being present and working on mentally and emotionally being in the moment and trying to handle it in such way that would benefit you.
“I have my own routines. I just try to do things, surround myself with people, have a trajectory and journey in this tournament that suits me, that I know has worked in the past.”
Djokovic has 20 Slam titles worth of experience, three of them on the New York hardcourts, and plenty of habits to fall back upon in tight situations.
“There are things that you can always rely on, go back to when you are experiencing a little bit of a turbulence in terms of emotions,” he said. “When it gets too much, I’ve developed a mechanism where I can mentally handle that.
“I do have a formula for many years that has worked well for me, that got me to where I am. At the same time, it’s not necessarily a guarantee that it will work every single time.
“You have to be flexible, open-minded, and rely also on your environment and the people that support you and just focus on what matters these few weeks.”
For Djokovic, it’s about process — workouts, recovering and working on his mental game also.
“There’s no secret potion or one thing I’d say is the biggest secret of my success being able to stay in the moment,” Djokovic said.
“It’s a combination of various factors and elements in my life, my approach to everyday life, my training, my recovery, my mental work. An environment.
“I know that everything matters. In the end of the day, it all affects and contributes to the performance in one way or another.”
It’s when the unpredictable things happen that Djokovic seeks balance.
“You go through really a roller coaster of emotions on the court,” Djokovic said. “Every time I lose that concentration and focus, I try to bounce back and bring my attention back to the moment.
“I think conscious breathing helps a lot. That’s one very simple way to stay present.”
With New York fans wanting to see history but also adoring upsets, Djokovic knows he might see both sides of crowd support.
“You always wish to have crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible,” he said. “I’ve been focusing on myself and what I need to do.
“I have to just see how it feels on the court and try to keep it together. That’s all I can do.”