Novak Djokovic knows how close he is.
Not just to make history and become the first man to win a Golden Slam by winning all four tennis majors and an Olympic singles gold medal in the same year.
Of course, that’s on Djokovic’s mind as he enters the Olympic tournament starting on Saturday.
But it is the biggest end product that would be the result of such a feat that weighs the heaviest on him – surpassing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to be considered the greatest tennis player of all time.
The goal is so big that Djokovic doesn’t even want to consider the consequences.
“I don’t want to be part of the debate. I don’t want to be compared to anyone,” the top-ranked Serb said on Thursday. “It is still a very long road to a potential historic achievement.
“I know there is a lot at stake. I know there is history at stake. I am privileged and motivated to be in this position. I have worked very hard to be here.… But let’s talk about history if everything goes well here, ”Djokovic added.
“Right now, all the attention is on the next challenge.”
In Serbia, the debate is already closed.
Olympic Committee Chef de Mission Natasa Jankovic introduced Djokovic at the team’s press conference as “the most successful tennis player of all time”.
By winning Wimbledon this month, Djokovic tied Federer and Nadal with their 20th Grand Slam title – having opened the year by capturing the Australian and French Open. He is the only one of them to have won every Slam twice. He is the only one to hold all four major titles simultaneously, which he did in late 2015 and early 2016.
The only tennis player to win a Golden Slam was Steffi Graf in 1988.
“I am not in contact with Steffi, but if you can connect her I would love to ask her how she did it,” said Djokovic, recalling how he briefly worked with Graf’s husband, Andre Agassi.
“When I thought of her (Golden Slam), I didn’t think it would be achievable. But right now, it just feels more and more realistic to me. Of course, that’s one of the goals and dreams.”
To make things easier for Djokovic, neither Federer nor Nadal play in Tokyo.
But that was also the case at last year’s US Open, where Djokovic was disqualified for unintentionally hitting a linesman in the throat with a ball.
“I haven’t experienced too many big tournaments in the last 15 years without Roger and Rafa,” Djokovic said. “So it’s a bit strange, to be honest, because I’m used to seeing them at minus one.”
Djokovic wants to open against No. 139 Hugo Dellien of Bolivia on the hard courts of Ariake Tennis Park.
Half of the top 10 male players are not in Tokyo, with Dominic Thiem, Matteo Berrettini and Denis Shapovalov also absent for various reasons.
“But still, some of the best players in the world are here,” said Djokovic. “(Daniil) Medvedev, (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Alexander) Zverev, (Andrey) Rublev. These are the guys who are in the top 6-7 in the world and they are the biggest contenders for a medal.”
Djokovic had openly considered not competing in the Olympics, after winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Games in 2008.
In the end, his desire to represent Serbia and achieve something unique was too great.
“It is the most special and historic sporting event in the history of sport,” Djokovic said of the Olympics.
“Representing your country, being part of a collective team is something that I cherish. It is something that encourages me personally and gives me a lot of confidence and energy for my own personal performance.”