“What are you still doing here?” Daniil Medvedev joked to Novak Djokovic following the Serb’s historic 24th Grand Slam triumph.
“I don’t know, when are you planning to slow down a little bit?” the Russian enquired.
It is a fair question.
Overcoming Medvedev in straight sets on Sunday, 36-year-old Djokovic equalled Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major singles titles to stand at the pinnacle of his sport.
And it appeared to mean more than any other before it. The emotion came pouring out of Djokovic as the magnitude of his achievement sank in, before the celebrations with his family and team members commenced.
“This is one of the biggest achievements in sport history,” his coach Goran Ivanisevic later declared. “We’re not talking about tennis. We are talking generally, in sport.”
He added: “If he wins 25, he’s going to think ‘why not 26?’ It’s always one more, something more.
“He’s taking care of his body, he’s taking care of everything, every single detail has to be perfect.”
Perhaps most remarkably, the Serb – who is peerless in the Open era (since tennis went professional in 1968) – has accomplished such remarkable heights despite competing in the greatest era the men’s game has witnessed.
A 24th Slam extended his lead over rival Rafael Nadal to two titles in the ongoing race for supremacy, after Swiss great Roger Federer retired with 20.
But while Spain’s Nadal has announced his plans to stop at the end of the 2024 season, there are no signs of Djokovic’s remarkable career coming to an end.
“I don’t put any number right now in my mind on how many Slams I want to win,” Djokovic said.
“Knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments, I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top.”
Djokovic gets US Open revenge to match Court
Djokovic admitted that the weight of history contributed to an underperformance when, on the brink of a stunning calendar Grand Slam in 2021, he lost to Medvedev in the US Open final to miss out on winning all four major titles in the same year.
But, two months after being denied a 24th title by Carlos Alcaraz in an epic five-set Wimbledon final, he would not allow his latest opportunity to pass him by.
The possibility of winning all four majors in the same year was not on the line here – although matching Rod Laver in that regard is no doubt an achievement he will have on his mind after losing just one match in Grand Slams in 2023.
However, a 24th major represented the most significant trophy of his illustrious career to date.
The only player to have previously reached 24 titles is Australian Court, whose achievements came during tennis’ transition to a professional sport.
While Djokovic has won his Slams in the Open era, the majority of Court’s titles – 13 to be precise – arrived before 1968. Until that point, most majors were contested by amateurs while top players sought the prize money on offer at private events.
It was a factor that Serena Williams alluded to when she spoke about falling agonisingly short of Court’s tally when she retired last year.
“I think [Djokovic is the greatest of all time]. How can you argue with these numbers,” BBC Radio 5 Live commentator David Law said.
“He’s got the same number as Court and, let’s be honest, they were registered at a time when tennis was a different sport. Many of them were at the Australian Open, when there wasn’t a huge amount of competition.
“He has had to come after Federer and Nadal, play against them when they have been at their best. He had to hunt them down, despite being considerably less popular with the crowds.”
Where did both players win their titles?
Court won her first singles Slam on home soil at the 1960 Australian Open, where she triumphed on 11 occasions, with her last coming in New York in 1973.
Similarly, Djokovic has won an all-time record 10 men’s titles in Melbourne since clinching his very first Slam there in 2008.
Wimbledon is his next most successful tournament, where he is just one title behind Federer’s men’s record eight triumphs.
One feat achieved by Court which Djokovic is yet to match is that elusive calendar Slam.
While Court is one of five women to have won a calendar Grand Slam – winning all four majors in 1970 – Laver remains the only man to do so after Medvedev denied Djokovic in New York two years ago.
‘Super human’ Djokovic ‘not stopping soon’
It is the fourth season of Djokovic’s career in which he has won three Grand Slam titles, becoming the first man to achieve that on as many occasions.
The records continue to fall and the numbers involved become more staggering with each success.
Victory over Medvedev came in Djokovic’s record-extending 36th Grand Slam final, and record-tying 10th US Open final – equalling Bill Tilden’s total.
He is the oldest man to triumph at Flushing Meadows in the Open era, surpassing Ken Rosewall, who won in 1970 aged 35.
Overall, he is the fourth-oldest Grand Slam champion. By next year’s US Open he will be old enough to beat Rosewall for that record.
And with his 96th career title overall, he reduced the gap to Federer (103) and Jimmy Connors (109) for the most in the Open era.
“I don’t think he’s stopping any time soon,” British former player Annabel Croft said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “Why would he? It was almost a perfect season.
“We witnessed something incredibly special tonight. We witnessed him tying Margaret Court with 24 titles. It has taken him time to get there but he’s done it. He’s super human, isn’t he.”
On Monday, Djokovic will return to world number one, replacing 20-year-old Spaniard Alcaraz – beaten by Medvedev in the semi-finals – who now appears the biggest threat to his bid for an all-time record 25th major.
The Serb has spent the most weeks at number one in ATP ranking history (since 1973) and next week will be his 390th at the top of the men’s game.
“You need to reinvent yourself, because everyone else does,” Djokovic said. “As a 36-year-old competing with 20-year-olds I probably have to do it more than ever.”
The four-time US Open champion added: “It’s a constant, evolving process of me trying to implement certain things that will give me an edge over the young guns.”
It is difficult to comprehend what he may have achieved in another era.
Since Wimbledon 2003, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have together claimed 66 of the 81 Grand Slam titles available over that period.
That is more than 81% of the available titles, with just 15 Slams in 20 years going to other players.
Now Djokovic will intend on increasing that share further when he returns to his favourite Grand Slam in January.
“To make the history of this sport is something truly remarkable and special,” Djokovic said.
“I never imagined that I would be here, talking about 24 Slams. I never thought that would be the reality. But the last couple of years I felt I had a chance, a shot at history – and why not grab it if it’s presented?”