Novak Djokovic is on the cusp of history.
The 34-year-old is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam wins.
He plays in the final of the US Open tonight with a chance of surpassing them.
Also on the line is a chance at completing the calendar Grand Slam, something a male tennis player has not achieved since Rod Laver in 1969.
He is often described as one of the fittest athletes on the planet, but that wasn’t always the case and he himself credits his transformation, in part, to a change in his diet back in 2010.
The 34-year-old has been the undisputed dominant force in world tennis in 2021, having already claimed the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.
The only blip on his record was a shock semi-final exit at the Olympics to end his hopes of winning the ‘Golden Grand Slam’.
Steffi Graf remains the only player, male or female, to have ever achieved that feat.
Djokovic turned pro in 2003, around the time Federer and Nadal were establishing themselves as the best around.
His ascension to the top of the sport was not as quick as others, slowly making his way up the rankings to No.3 in 2007, losing the final of the US Open to Federer.
Djokovic’s first Grand Slam title came at the Australian Open in 2008, but he struggled to realise his full potential on the court.
He struggled mid-match collapses and there were question marks over his fitness.
The turning point came in 2010 when he came up against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga at the 2010 Australian Open in the quarter-final.
Despite leading two sets to one, he had trouble breathing, felt drained of strength, and vomited violently during a toilet break.
He went on to lose the match and knew he had to do something about his problems to last in the long matches.
“I’ve experienced, prior to 2010 Australian Open, many struggles on the court… even though I was training hard, I felt like I was losing that fuel in my tank,” he said.
He sought the help of nutritionist Dr Igor Cetojevic, who conducted tests that showed he was strongly intolerant to wheat and diary products.
As he reveals in his book Serve To Win, Djokovic immediately cut this from his diet and he is gluten-free and dairy-free. He tends to stick with eating vegetables, beans, white meat, fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, lentils and healthy oils.
What Novak Djokovic eats
Breakfast: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of honey; muesli
Mid-morning snack (if needed): Gluten-free bread or crackers with avocado and tuna
Lunch: Mixed-greens salad, gluten-free pasta primavera
Mid-afternoon snack: Apple with cashew butter; melon
Dinner: Kale caesar salad plus dressing; minestrone soup; salmon fillets (skin on) with roasted tomatoes and marinade
Breakfast: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of honey; banana with cashew butter; fruit
Mid-morning snack: (if needed): Gluten-free toast with almond butter and honey
Lunch: Mixed-greens salad, spicy soba noodle salad
Mid-afternoon snack: Fruit and nut bar; fruit
Dinner: Tuna nicoise salad, tomato soup, roasted tomatoes
Breakfast: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of honey; gluten-free oats with cashew butter and bananas; fruit
Mid-morning snack (if needed): Home-made hummus with apples/crudités
Lunch: Mixed-greens salad, gluten-free pasta with power pesto
Mid-afternoon: snack Avocado with gluten-free crackers; fruit
Dinner: Fresh mixed-greens salad with avocado and home-made dressing; carrot and ginger soup; whole lemon-roasted chicken
Djokovic said: “I just needed that information about the change in diet and nutrition. With that change in 2010 and the years after that, I felt so strong as a tennis player… the horizons of my life opened up to me. The circumstances in life that I’ve had after that were phenomenal,”
It was maybe not the sole factor, but certainly had a massive effect in transforming him into a juggernaut on the tennis court.
Over the last decade, he has won 19 Grand Slam titles. Federer has won four, while Nadal has fared much better winning 11 – eight of which have been at the French Open as he continues to be the undisputed king of clay.
The title of Djokovic’s book also alludes to the diet helping his mental wellbeing and despite his brilliant talent with the tennis racquet, it’s Djokovic’s mental strength which really sets him apart from the rest of the field.
“I remember when Roger Federer played Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals in 2015,” former British No.1 Greg Rusedski told talkSPORT.com before the US Open.
“There were 23,000 people in the stadium wanting Federer to win and Djokovic beat him in four sets. I’ve never seen something so mentally tough in my life! It was louder than any Davis Cup match.
“I was there with my jaw to the floor thinking ‘how does he do it?’ The only people supporting him are the 20 or so in his box. Every other person was booing him and cheering for Federer. I was dumbfounded. How he managed that situation live on TV and in front of all those people was extraordinary.”
There’s no Federer or Rafael Nadal to worry about for Djokovic this year and a triumph at Flushing Meadows would see him overtake both of them for Grand Slam titles.
Will this make him the greatest men’s player ever? Maybe not yet, says Rusedski, but get up to 25 Slams and there’s no debate on who the GOAT of tennis is.
“I don’t think he’s going to stop at 21,” Rusedski added. “There will always be people who say ‘he hasn’t done this, he hasn’t done that, he hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal.’ I think if Djokovic stays healthy he can get to 25 slams, which would be more than Margaret Court, who has 24.
“I think that would pretty much put the debate that he is the greatest to rest… If he gets to 25, there is no debate, men or women’s.
“I think that’s what motivates him, his drive is phenomenal.
“This will be the most stressful tournament he’s ever going to go into in his career because of what’s on the line right now – beating the record, holding all four.”
But stay away from that gluten and Djokovic has every chance of making history.
The US Open is available to watch on Prime Video.
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