Touching Djokovic tribute as he clinches 24th grand slam

Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic paid a touching tribute to basketball legend Kobe Bryant as he clinched the US Open, and his 24th grand slam.

Djokovic cemented his place in sporting immortality with the record-equalling grand slam singles crown on Monday (Australian time), taking down Daniil Medvedev with a bruising 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 triumph in New York.

After collapsing on the court and then running into the stands to celebrate with his wife and kids (and Matthew McConaughey, who got the first hug once Djokovic made it to his player’s box), the Serbian star donned a bright T-shirt with “Mamba Forever” and an image of Bryant on the front.

On the back, it had Bryant’s 24 jersey number, in reference to Djokovic’s new 24th grand slam.

“I thought of doing this T-shirt eventually if I got the chance to win the tournament. It was about seven days ago. I didn’t share it with anyone until a few days ago when I asked my people to help me out to make this shirt,” Djokovic said during the trophy ceremony.

“Kobe was a close, close friend. We chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality when I was struggling with an injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game.”

Bryant died, along with his daughter and seven others, in a Los Angeles helicopter crash in 2020.

Djokovic has often spoken about the impact Bryant had on him. On Monday, he said the late LA Laker star was one of the people he relied on the most.

“He was always there for any kind of counsel advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way,” Djokovic said.

“What happened a few years ago, him and his daughter passing, hurt me deeply and I thought 24 is the jersey that he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball. So I thought it could be a nice symbolic thing to to acknowledge him.”

With his win on Monday, Djokovic has matched the all-time majors record of Australian legend Margaret Court.

The 36-year-old also became the oldest man to win the Flushing Meadows title in the 55-year professional era.

The clash with Medvedev was a rematch of the 2021 final, which the Russian won in straight sets for his lone major title to deny Djokovic a fabled calendar-year grand slam sweep.

Djokovic has now taken three of the four available grand slams in 2023, having also won the Australian Open and Roland Garros while losing the Wimbledon final in five sets to Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz.

His fourth title from 10 Flushing Meadows finals propels the undisputed tennis GOAT back to the top of the rankings, replacing dethroned champion Alcaraz.

Of more importance to Djokovic is his record against his peers; he is now two clear of Nadal’s 22 grand slam crowns and four ahead of Roger Federer, who declared last year on 20.

“I don’t know where to start – it means the world to me,” Djokovic said.

“I’m kind of repeating myself but I have to say it every time that I’m really living my childhood dream.

“To compete at the highest level in this sport that has given me and my family so much, coming from very difficult circumstances and adversities in the 90s, a couple of wars in our country, and being able to push through that.

“Especially my parents, giving a lot of sacrifices to support me to play. I love you, so thank you so much.

“To support me to play this sport; it is a very expensive sport. At that time (it was) very expensive, not accessible, not affordable, but I fell in love with it, this tennis.

“No one has played tennis in my family before so it was quite a choice, I must say.

“So everyone in my family – my wife, my children, my team, this is as much your trophy as mine.”

Third-seeded Medvedev, who knocked out Australians Chris O’Connell and Alex de Minaur as well as reigning champion Alcaraz on his way to the final, has now lost four grand slam title deciders – two each to Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Medvedev lost to Nadal in New York in 2019 and Melbourne last year, and was beaten by Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open.

– with AAP

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