NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic said he felt “relief” that his run toward history was finally over after coming up short in the US Open on Sunday.
The world No. 1 was going for the first calendar-year Grand Slam — winning all four major titles in the same year — by a men’s player since Rob Laver in 1969. A win would have also taken Djokovic to 21 Grand Slam titles, one more than Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I was glad it was over because the buildup for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot,” Djokovic said after his loss to Daniil Medvedev in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. “It was a lot to handle.”
Djokovic was far from his best on Sunday, committing 38 unforced errors and going 1-for-6 on break chances. He also let his frustration show, smashing his racket early in the match and drawing a code violation from chair umpire Damien Dumusois. The 34-year-old from Serbia said he felt slow “energy-wise” and knows he could and should have played better.
After the match, an emotional Djokovic held a towel to his face and cried. He said he felt different emotions — sadness and disappointment for the loss and happiness for the soulful way the local crowd has treated him.
“Of course, part of me is very sad. It’s a tough one to swallow, this loss, I mean, considering everything that was on the line,” he said. “But on the other hand I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever.”
In the awards ceremony after his loss, Djokovic said the crowd “touched my soul.”
Reflecting on his performance this year — 27-1 in majors — Djokovic said he was ultimately “very satisfied.”
“Three wins, three Slams and a final,” he said. “For the last couple of years, I’ve been very transparent and vocal about my goals, to play my best tennis at Slams. I’m managing to do that. Of course, I was short today for another Slam title, but I have to be proud with everything that my team and I have achieved.”
Djokovic also added that learning to “turn the next page” is a big part of being a tennis player.
“Very soon, there are more challenges coming up,” he said. “I’ll try to draw some lessons from them, learn, be stronger and keep going, keep going. I still love this sport and I still feel good on the court. As long as there is motivation and that flair, I’ll keep riding.”