Justine Henin thinks it is time for Novak Djokovic to get more recognition for the many “extraordinary” and “exceptional” achievements and records in his career.
Djokovic is enjoying a historic season that has seen him win three majors, break Roger Federer’s record for most weeks as world No 1, break Pete Sampras’ record for most year-end No 1 finishes, and move ahead of Rafael Nadal in the standings for all-time Masters titles with 37.
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“He is totally unique,” Henin told Eurosport. “I think it’s really about time – even though there are a lot of people who obviously respect his huge career – that people realise what he is achieving. You can like Novak Djokovic, you can dislike him, there are many people who don’t fancy his character, but what he is doing in his career, what the champion is doing, is simply extraordinary.
“There are not many who can bounce back like he can. We talk about today, but we can go back to a year ago, after the US Open (disqualification against Pablo Carreno Busta), we also thought we would find him hurt. And despite everything, even if he loses in the final at Roland Garros, he is still there. After that, he rebuilt himself, he won the Australian Open, and his ability to bounce back is just phenomenal.
“And I think that this defeat in the final of the US Open was simply necessary to allow Novak Djokovic to breathe, to recover, to show himself to be a bit human. Because, finally, he has perhaps never been so loved as when he lost so harshly in the final against Daniil Medvedev.
“And me, I’m not at all surprised that he came back here (Paris) because there are more records to go after and because it’s his job. It’s his passion. It’s what he loves, because a competitor like that doesn’t exist today on the circuit.
“I’m not surprised, but I think we have to take the measure of what he is doing because it is really something unique and exceptional.”
‘Djokovic is so driven’
Henin won seven Grand Slam singles titles during her career and also finished as year-end No 1 on three occasions in 2003, 2006 and 2007.
She enjoyed an exceptional season in 2007 as she won 10 out of the 14 events she entered, including two majors, and finished with a 63-4 win-loss record.
She thinks Djokovic has several qualities that have moved him clear of his rivals and taken him to another level.
“I think we (champions) all love competition. Him, even more so? Does he have even more abilities? Obviously, yes. He is someone who can work on his motivation, who is able to feed it. There is probably also a lot of work to do with his environment and entourage.
“I think that Novak Djokovic is a man who thinks a lot on himself. And so he has this ability to analyse what is happening, an ability to accept things and at the same time fight against them. I think he’s someone who tries to make sense of things and so he thinks a lot, I believe in this very, very much, and so he works a lot on himself.
“I think he’s a hard worker, too, not just in the sense of saying ‘I’m going to practice, I’m doing what I need to do to be ready’, he’s working on himself, on his person, he’s thinking about it all. You can feel that he invests on his personal development as well. And I think that’s something that can help him.
Justine Henin celebrates winning the 2007 French Open
Image credit: Getty Images
“But above all, Novak Djokovic is driven. We are all driven, I was and others at higher levels than me, by a competitive spirit. We like a challenge, but Novak Djokovic even more: the more difficult it is, the more he is able to show something of himself behind it. And so, I think he’s someone who accepts and loves adversity, probably even more than others.
“And that’s his great strength today. He says ‘pressure is a privilege’. He uses it, he needs it. He’s able to cope with it and he’s almost even stronger when it’s most present. So that’s what makes him really, really special.”
Henin also believes that Djokovic remains “hungry” for more success even though there are few records left for him to break.
“What he’s done this year, the regularity, the consistency, the fact that he’s been there…one can’t imagine what that means in today’s men’s tennis.
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“After that it is so hard to mobilise yourself again. We could have wondered after the US Open, ‘so now, what with Novak Djokovic?’ But Novak Djokovic, he’s still hungry. The Australian Open, obviously that’s still a question, but he wants to win Grand Slams. There are records to break and as long as there are records to break, Novak Djokovic will be competitive.
“He said that he was able to play so freely in the [Paris] final because he was guaranteed to finish this season as the world No 1. I remember, it counts, it is meaningful and you go on holiday and you’re happy, you’re light and you have a sense of accomplishment, you’ve done your job well. It’s a very, very special feeling. And there was a lot of pressure on him. This week, in Bercy, he managed wonderfully well.
“I found him really relaxed at the end of the final. He was able to free himself to go and get this title. So, there are the big long-term goals for Novak Djokovic or at the same time, you have to be able to set new, smaller, shorter-term goals all the time. And that’s where he’s very, very good, because you can feel that he’s totally driven by this quest.”
‘Djokovic can still evolve and adapt’
Djokovic had lost two of his previous meetings with Medvedev, including the US Open final, which was over in just two hours and 15 minutes.
But the world No 1 turned the tables on Medvedev in Paris as he came from a set down to triumph, helped by often utilising a serve-and-volley tactic.
“I thought he was phenomenal in how he dealt with the final,” added Henin. “He started much more slowly than Daniil Medvedev, against a Daniil Medvedev who is aiming at taking his place on the circuit and who is now Novak Djokovic’s biggest rival.
“The physical dimension was going to be a factor and we knew it could be an issue for the Russian. Novak Djokovic has so much experience, he’s so smart and he’s so strong in his head that he knew that too and used it.
“You could feel that he had recovered and was fresh again. There was relief in the US Open defeat. He was able to take care of himself, he was able to remobilise. And finally, the pressure was almost as much on Daniil Medvedev as on Novak Djokovic in this final.
“He is smart enough to know that nothing can be taken for granted. You have to keep working on things. He showed that in this match too, especially tactically. First of all, he remained very calm after losing the first set. He waited for the opportunities, he served better and better. And then, it’s true that tactically, the fact that he said, ‘I can play the game I wanted to play’, I think that’s wonderful to hear from the world No 1. After all he has done, he says to himself, ‘I am still looking for ways to push my opponent’ because he knows that the other side is making progress, has made enormous progress.
“And he still has this humility, this willingness to question himself tactically. And indeed, the variety that he has shown going forward and serve and volley at important moments…I think that’s the great class of Novak Djokovic and it shows that he’s still capable of evolving and adapting to a lot of circumstances. On the emotional side, I think Novak Djokovic is capable of digging a hole for himself but also of bouncing back so quickly. I’m not surprised anymore.”
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