The 'Pleasant Surprise' Djokovic Received After Winning The Tokyo Title

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic not only impressed the Tokyo crowd on Sunday by winning the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, but he made an impression on his opponent in the final, John Millman, too.

“It sound silly to say, but I hope everyone all around the world realizes just how good you are,” Millman said during his post-match speech. “You’re an absolute champion and you’re the type of person that’s going to be remembered forever. Your legacy is continuing to build and will live on long after you finish playing. But I’m sure you’ve got a fair few more years left.”

Djokovic claimed his 76th tour-level title and his fourth trophy of the year. It is the 11th time he has captured at least four crowns in a season. But it’s easy to get lost in the stats and lose sight of Djokovic’s tremendous level.

“I think we’ve been blessed in the game currently with a couple of massive superstars. I don’t want to leave out your Wawrinka’s and Murray’s in this, because that sounds silly to do that. But obviously I’m probably referring to Rafa, Roger and Novak,” Millman said. “Sometimes I feel like these guys are just so good, sometimes, whether it be Novak or Rafa or whoever, we forget how good they are, what they’ve done and what Novak is doing is incredible. My words to him were heartfelt in that as a tennis lover myself, I just admire and appreciate just how good he is and I just wanted to let him know that and I think I said and I hope people realise how good he is and not to take that for granted, because we’re not going to have these types of players forever.”

Djokovic did not take those comments from Millman lightly. The Serbian noted that he does not try to think of himself in that manner or praise himself, but he appreciates the respect from his peer.

“I was very pleasantly surprised and touched with his words. It was very nice of him to say something like that,” Djokovic said. “I try to be humble and live in the present, even though, of course, I do understand that there’s going to be a time when I’m not going to play tennis anymore and the future generations will hopefully remember and talk about me in a positive way and the legacy and the impact that I left behind on this sport can be and I hope to be positive on these guys.”

The 32-year-old became the 10th World No. 1 to win the Tokyo event, and he also pulled to within 1,460 points of Rafael Nadal in the ATP Race To London as he continues his pursuit of a record-tying sixth finish atop the year-end ATP Rankings. But while the Serbian appreciates tennis history, that’s not all that drives him.

“The main source of motivation has to come from inside, rather than external. You play a tournament and you play a match, but that’s probably 10 per cent, maybe 20 per cent of your entire year of playing tennis. Everything else is practice,” Djokovic said. “So you need daily motivation that comes intrinsically and that guides you and moves you when you need to be moved, so to say, when you need to be inspired to go out and play with the good spirit.

“I respect obviously when people say, ‘work hard’, but I’m more for this approach where you work hard, but you bring good spirit into it, you enjoy it. If you do something that you don’t love, it really makes it really difficult to do it in the long run. I have been playing tennis all my life basically and competing in professional tennis for more than 15 years, so I still plan to play for many more years and hopefully I can be healthy and have the heart, mind and soul aligned for this to happen.”

This doesn’t mean that Djokovic does not chase milestones. In fact, he told the media Sunday evening that he wants to be World No. 1 and win tennis’ biggest titles. But not needing those motivators to push him every day allows him to constantly maintain a high level and continue improving.

“The driving force or the biggest motivation is really the love for the game and that has to surface and that has to be the fuel every single day,” Djokovic said. “Of course goals are big, but in my case I try not to make them bigger than the biggest one.”

Djokovic faced few difficulties in his first Tokyo appearance, winning a title on his main draw tournament debut for the 10th time. The top seed did not drop a set during his run.

“It’s unfortunate when you come up against them,” Millman said. “But he’s a superstar and what he’s doing is he’s building a legend that long after he’s finished playing, people will remember just how good he is.”

Photo Credit: Hiroshi Sato