A day after winning Wimbledon for a ninth Grand Slam title, moving within five of Rafael Nadal's total and putting him more than halfway to Roger Federer's record of 17, Novak Djokovic was asked about the possibility of catching his two rivals.
"I don't want to say it's too early to talk about it," Djokovic began, then interrupted himself with a laugh. "I mean, it's probably the right time to talk about it."
It sure is.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic has firmly established his bona fides as one of the greats of the game by just about any measure, including his three championships at Wimbledon, five at the Australian Open, and one at the U.S. Open. By getting to Grand Slam title No. 9, he pushed ahead of quite a group of guys with eight: Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall. Plus, Djokovic is 28, and by all accounts only getting better.
As for chasing the numbers put up by contemporaries Federer and Nadal?
"I'm still far, far away from that. It's still a long way ahead," Djokovic said Monday at the All England Club, about 18 hours after earning his third Wimbledon championship, and second in a row, with a 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 victory over second-ranked Federer. "Winning one Grand Slam, I know what it takes. It's a lot of effort. A lot of things have to come together. So to reach these two guys would be something incredible. But honestly, I'm not thinking about it now."
Instead, Djokovic said, he derives motivation from his "passion and love for the sport, and just the joy that I find in playing tennis," along with a sense of "responsibility" he feels to "keep going and bring joy to myself and to" those closest to him, including his wife and their 8-month-old son, Stefan.
Djokovic also said he feels "like I have many years in front of me."
That's probably true, although it will not be easy to maintain the pace he established recently. Over the past 20 Grand Slam tournaments, Djokovic has reached 15 finals — a Federeresque rate — and won eight. And who were the men who lost to Djokovic in those eight? Federer (two), Nadal (three), and Andy Murray (three).
Not too shabby.
As Federer put it during the trophy ceremony at Centre Court on Sunday: "Novak played not only great today but the whole two weeks, plus the whole year, plus last year, plus the year before that."
If it weren't for a four-set loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final, after knocking out Nadal in the quarterfinals, Djokovic would be heading to the U.S. Open, which he won in 2011, with a chance at a calendar-year Grand Slam, just like Serena Williams.
Disappointing as that defeat against Wawrinka was, preventing him from claiming a career Grand Slam, Djokovic recovered quickly.
"Considering where I was, my state of mind, I would say, three, four weeks ago," Djokovic said Monday, "it's pretty amazing to be here with you today as the Wimbledon champion."
It was pointed out to Djokovic that he is the only player who has beaten seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer on the grass of the All England Club, as well as nine-time French Open champion Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros.
And Djokovic happened to do it in the span of a little more than a month.
"That is a great achievement, now that you mention it," Djokovic said, leaning back in his chair. "I didn't think about it, but it feels pretty good. It's probably an ultimate challenge to win against those two guys on their most preferred surfaces."
Terrific as Djokovic is — owner of the best return in tennis; a genius along the baseline, thanks in part to a speedy, sliding, body-contorting style that lets him get to nearly every ball — he is intent on improving.
That's why he brought aboard Boris Becker as a second coach, for example, to help his mental toughness and serve, among other things.
Djokovic's serve is more of an asset than ever — he saved six of seven break points Sunday — and now he has designs on getting to the net more often.
"There is always something I can work on," Djokovic said, "and I know I can get my game to a higher level."
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich