NEW YORK: When Novak Djokovic’s year got off to a less-than-ideal start, the Serbian set off on a five-day hike in the French Alps that proved transformative.
Since his June trek with his wife up Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that famously also served as an inspiration for Paul Cezanne, the 31-year-old has added a pair of Grand Slam titles to his resume.
“I remember one moment particularly when we climbed that mountain. It was pretty high. We reached the top after three hours,” Djokovic recalled after landing the US Open title by beating Juan Martin Del Potro on Sunday.
“We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation.
“I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me in a way. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport.
“The rest is history in terms of results, in terms of how I felt. I just felt like a whole wave of energy that I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards.”
After missing the second half of the 2017 season because of an elbow problem, Djokovic played the Australian Open before having surgery on the joint only for the disappointing results to continue until his quarter-final exit at Roland Garros.
Something in the Alpine air clearly agreed with him, though, and he went on to triumph at Wimbledon, the US Open tune-up in Cincinnati and then in New York to grab his 14th career Grand Slam title, putting him third on the all-time list.
“I had to kind of disconnect a little bit,” said Djokovic. “We just isolated ourselves and took things from a different perspective.
“Ever since then, the tennis is completely different for me. In terms of results, I played finals of Queen’s, won Wimbledon, won Cincinnati, and won US Open.
“I guess we’ll be hiking some more very soon,” he added with a smile.
In New York, while some of his fiercest rivals fell by the wayside over a bruising fortnight, Djokovic did not let the intense heat or any of his opponents push him off his path to a third title at Flushing Meadows.
Djokovic will now set his sights on conquering a different summit by reclaiming his place atop the world tennis rankings for the first time since October 2016.
Admitting it would have been hard to believe back in February that he would go on to collect such prestigious titles this year, he also felt the barren spell had actually helped get him back on track.
“I learned a lot about myself, learned to be patient, which was never really a stronger side of me,” Djokovic said.
“But at the same time, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can centre yourself, balance yourself and thrive.
“The last two months have been terrific.”