Tennis: Sky’s the limit for Djokovic after matching Graf, say younger rivals

Novak Djokovic celebrates after victory against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas during the Australian Open in Melbourne, on Jan 29. PHOTO: AFP

Novak Djokovic has shown that age is not a barrier and the 35-year-old will continue to break records, his younger rivals on the ATP tour said as the Serbian star looks to overtake Steffi Graf as the player with the most weeks at world No. 1.

Djokovic won a record-extending 10th Australian Open title in January to draw level with his great rival Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam victories and leapfrog Carlos Alcaraz into top spot in the ATP rankings.

He already holds the record for the most weeks as the men’s No. 1 after surpassing Roger Federer’s mark of 310 weeks in March 2021 and began his 377th week at the top on Monday to go level with 22-time Major champion Graf.

Russian world No. 5 Andrey Rublev said Djokovic had shown that anything is possible.

“At the age of 35, he still can be the best player in the world and break records,” Rublev, 25, who lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open quarter-finals, told reporters in Doha.

“If you do the things right, you can perform at the highest level... age doesn’t matter. That’s what it means to me.”

Former world No. 2 Alexander Zverev said Djokovic had shown how consistent he can be by dominating his rivals in the last decade.

However, Zverev, who is back playing without any pain and enjoying his tennis again, said that watching Graf being overtaken would be bittersweet for him.

“He’s surpassing Steffi, so as a German, obviously I always loved her having that record. But credit to Novak, I think that shows how great he is,” the 25-year-old Zverev said.

“I’m sure that he’s going to break a few more records. I’m not sure there are many left, but the ones that are left, maybe he will.”

Djokovic returns to action in Dubai next Monday.

For Zverev, he is glad to now be free of his injury problems, as he prepares to face Andy Murray in the Doha second round on Wednesday.

Zverev had surgery to repair damaged ankle ligaments following an injury he sustained during his French Open semi-final against Nadal last June.

The German’s return was further delayed in September after he suffered from a bone edema. After returning to competitive action in December, Zverev lost in the second round of the Australian Open and Rotterdam last week.

“I don’t have it in the back of my mind. A few weeks ago, I used to still get signals from my foot,” Zverev told reporters in Doha.

“It’s in the right direction, and I feel like I can play pretty freely now. I felt that way in Rotterdam. I thought I played a lot better in Rotterdam than I did the previous weeks, even though I lost second round.

“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks, and hopefully it still gets progressively better.”

The German said the prospect of being out for months due to his bone edema issue was tough to digest, but a break from the game was exactly what he needed.

“I packed my bags and went on holiday,” he said.

“I didn’t do any rehabilitation. That helped me a lot, because my foot did need rest. I was trying very hard to come back, and maybe I did a bit too much. That’s in the past now, and hopefully we can look forward without any issues.” REUTERS

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