Pursuing tennis history can leave iconic champions feel as if they’re playing with bulls-eyes on their backs and major boulders on their shoulders.
In the aftermath of Serena Williams‘ 6-3, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinals, the 23-time Grand Slam champion broke down in tears in her post-match presser.
Novak Djokovic showed sympathy for Serena after sweeping into his ninth AO final. Djokovic is playing for his 18th Grand Slam title to close the gap on 20-time major champions Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Similarly, Williams is chasing one more major title to match Margaret Court’s all-time record winning her 24th Grand Slam crown.
World No. 1 Djokovic said the closer a champion comes to reaching a historic peak, the greater the pressure they feel.
“I can empathize with Serena and what she’s going through,” Djokovic told the media in Melbourne. She’s such an amazing champion that inspires both male and female athletes around the world in what she has been doing, I mean, still is doing in her age, is extraordinary.
“I mean, I’m sure she’s disappointed. I heard she was also emotional in the press conference. And, you know, regardless of all the success that she had, you know, I know that when you lose a big match you’re frustrated. You’re pissed off and you’re emotional. Of course, it’s completely understandable.”
Since she defeated sister Venus Williams in the 2017 Australian Open final, Serena Williams has suffered four Grand Slam final losses in straight sets and has been knocked out in the semifinals of the last two majors.
Djokovic said perspective is vital for the 39-year-old American.
“I think when you see a larger picture for her and everything that who she is, what she stands for on and off the court, I mean, she’s one of the greatest ever,” Djokovic said. “I mean, there is no doubt, athletes, not just tennis player.
I’m just — you know, I’m proud and honored to be playing at the same time she does and to see her greatness, experience her greatness is a thrill.”