Novak Djokovic completed a stunning two-month run on Sunday evening at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where he defeated Juan Martin del Potro to lift his third US Open title and earn his 14th Grand Slam trophy, tying American legend Pete Sampras for third all time.
It’s not that long ago that he had lost three matches in a row, doing so for the first time since 2007. That didn’t stop the former World No. 1, though, as Djokovic returned to form by winning Wimbledon, completing the Career Golden Masters by coming out victorious in Cincinnati, and finally, shining bright in ‘The Big Apple’.
But Djokovic did not simply receive his trophy, walk off the court and turn in for the evening after his win in Arthur Ashe Stadium. ATPWorldTour.com takes you behind the scenes from the night of his victory through his media tour on Monday:
7:38 pm – Djokovic strikes an overhead winner to clinch his title, dropping to the court in celebration.
8:20 pm – Djokovic is still taking pictures and greeting some of his friends, family and supporters after the trophy ceremony, a mere 20 steps or so from the entrance to the court, right where ESPN does all of its pre-match interviews with the players.
The Serbian hugs friends and family, with a simple adjective to describe the scene: ecstatic.
“This is going to be yours in 10 to 15 years’ time,” Djokovic says to a friend’s son.
8:21 pm – The 31-year-old greets actor Gerard Butler, who’s notorious for many roles, including one as the lead actor in 300. Butler and Djokovic pose with the trophy and reenact Butler’s most famous line from that movie:
“This. Is. Sparta!”
After the triumphant roar, Djokovic heads into locker room to celebrate with his team. Eventually he does the television rounds, before meeting the general press at nearly 9:30 pm.
“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,” Djokovic says.
8:03 am – A large black SUV pulls to a stop on West 48th Street in Manhattan, next to Rockefeller Plaza. Djokovic emerges from the car just more than 12 hours after completing his victory over Del Potro.
Sporting a green raincoat and beige pants, the newly minted World No. 3 — up from No. 21 just two months ago — is in a happy mood, as you’d expect, greeting everyone. He says ‘Good Morning’ twice to the group awaiting him.
Producers from the TODAY show are all around, with one asking if Djokovic needs any touch-ups, but there is no need. Djokovic walks into the green room where women’s singles champion Naomi Osaka’s mother is sitting, with Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, right next to her.
Djokovic compliments Osaka’s effort, saying, “She handled herself very well.”
The Serbian enjoys watching her interview on a television in the room while he has a free moment.
“I’ve never been on a talk show before,” Osaka tells the hosts.
Djokovic has. And while he had not triumphed in Flushing Meadows since 2015, this is not new for Djokovic. Instead, it feels as if he is back where he belongs.
8:10 am – The 71-time tour-level champion gets mic’d up by one of the show’s sound technicians, preparing to enter the TODAY show’s ‘Orange Room’, where Osaka is at the time.
8:11 am – Novak grabs the trophy from USTA Communications manager Eric Schuster and walks into the studio, officially starting his media tour.
8:16 am – TODAY’s Al Roker gives viewers the weather, his last duty on the show before joining Djokovic.
8:17 am – Novak comes out of the studio and poses for a picture with friend Gordon Uehling’s daughter, Zia Uehling.
“I was expecting it to be kind of heavy,” she says as Djokovic lets her hold the trophy.
“It fits you well,” he replies.
Osaka walks out of the studio herself and Djokovic congratulates her, then suggests they pose for some photos.
8:18 am – Djokovic and Osaka return to the studio to take photos, enjoying their moment together.
8:19 am – Djokovic is done at the studio, but not with the show. Roker walks him down a spiral staircase that leads toward the 47th-50th Streets — Rockefeller Center subway station. Surrounded by four US Open security guards, an array of show employees and his own team, Djokovic speaks to Roker as they walk through the corridors about the show, the different sets they use, so on and so forth.
8:21 am – Djokovic and Roker walk by a number of small tables on their right, where New Yorkers enjoy their morning coffee and breakfast with friends or coworkers. For the most part, nobody pays them much attention. The group appears just like the typical swarm rushing through the hall during rush hour in New York City. But one table of three women simultaneously stops what they are doing, following the crowd of people with their eyes, their heads swiveling. One woman in particular stops sipping her coffee, her jaw dropping to the floor. It’s safe to say she recognises Djokovic, Roker, or both.
The group walks by a number of storefronts on the way to the train station itself. As Djokovic walks by a ‘Juice Press’, he gives a small fist pump. He opened a vegan restaurant named Eqvita where he resides — in Monte-Carlo — about two years ago.
8:24 am – Roker gets mic’d up as producers frantically try to arrange cameras in preparation for a live segment with Djokovic and Roker, just 10 to 20 feet from the subway turnstiles. Commuters passing by slowly begin to do double-takes as they realise that the group is not just a bunch of commuters.
And while not everyone realises that Djokovic is there in plain sight, some people take out their phones to document the moment.
8:27 am – As Djokovic is prepared by members of the crew, he is handed a platter of donuts, The champion maintains a gluten-free diet, but he has fun with the moment anyway, The stage manager has a production assistant call back to the control room to turn his ‘listen’ up, as it becomes clear the segment is not too far away.
8:29 am – “It’s Al Roker!”
During the rush of a Monday morning commute, the area becomes significantly more crowded.
Djokovic does a quick dance for the crowd as everyone gets set to go live.
“It’s a great country! Only in New York!” Roker proclaims, laughing.
The weatherman introduces Djokovic as the US Open champion… ‘The Donut Server’, Djokovic jokes.
“You’re known for a different kind of serve,” Roker says, as the pair begins to discuss his victory at Flushing Meadows.
“Realistically, three months ago I was pretty far [from my top level],” Djokovic says.
8:34 am – “Here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods,” says Roker, delivering his trademark closing line to sign off from the interview. The production crew quickly helps Djokovic remove his microphone so the Serbian can get on his way. He takes a minute or so to take some photographs with the fans, enjoying his time in the subway station.
8:36 am – The crowd claps as Djokovic walks up the stairs and up towards the street. The group is ready for the next stop on its tour.
8:39 am – A gentleman walks down the sidewalk and is stunned to see that Djokovic, the US Open champion, is right in front of him, quickly congratulating the Serbian. He fumbles his phone as he asks to take a selfie.
“Let me help you,” Djokovic says, more than happy to please a fan.
8:56 am – The road narrows on West 67th street as dozens of children are on the left side of the street, roped off, gathered for a segment on LIVE with Kelly and Ryan, the next stop on the trip. Djokovic gets out of the car and heads past the crowd, widely unnoticed as he walks towards the studio. Once physically in the building, there stands a regulation-sized basketball hoop on the left. He jumps to touch the rim twice. It’s only fitting considering Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said just a week ago that if he could choose any player to join his championship-winning team, he’d take the Serbian.
“I think he can guard anybody,” Kerr told ATPWorldTour.com on 3 September. “He moves his feet extremely well. Side to side, I think he can stay in front of anybody. I think he’d be good in the fast break. I’d like to see him on a basketball court.”
And it turns out he can dunk, too! It’s safe to say Djokovic is faring plenty well on the tennis court as it is.
In front of the group is a large studio door the colour of Roland Garros’ terre battue, with a small sign displaying the show’s name. But instead, everyone walks down a hallway to the right, where there is a green room, on the right side of that narrow path.
Djokovic and select members of his team continue on 10 steps or so before standing in an open space to the right, where he’s held until his segment.
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9:00 am – Novak notes the time. Some of Djokovic’s team retreats to the green room to get ready to watch his segment from there.
9:11 am – Guinness World Records adjudicator and spokesperson Michael Empric appears on a television in the green room leading the children that are outside in a simultaneous one-minute floss as they set a world record for most people doing the dance for that long at once.
9:18 am – Djokovic gives high fives to people in the audience on the way out to the desk to meet Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest as confetti sprouts into the air behind him.
9:19 am – Kelly says that it’s “becoming like a tradition” that Djokovic is on the show. It’s another instance showing that, in a way, Djokovic is back on top. He’s no stranger to triumphs. And while he began his 2018 campaign 6-6, this is what is truly normal for him.
After the hosts ask him about his elbow surgery after the Australian Open, Djokovic jokes that doing the floss dance caused his elbow injury
The Serbian reflects on his victory on Sunday against Del Potro, remembering the sounds he took in and the “uniqueness of the night sessions in Arthur Ashe Stadium”.
9:21 am – The producers pull up a picture of Djokovic during his quarter-final match against John Millman, when he took his shirt off as the Australian left the court to change his clothes.
“You look like you’re at the beach!”
“I have to hit the gym,” Djokovic jokes.
He hugs Ripa, gives Seacrest a warm handshake and it’s back out into the rain. But before jumping in another US Open SUV, Djokovic pauses, and hands off his water bottle to agent Edoardo Artaldi. Djokovic sees a small group of kids who had been on television dancing and decides to walk over and invite them to dance some more.
One day ago, Djokovic won the US Open. But that hasn’t changed his personality in any way. The Serbian takes pride in being a father of two, and his Novak Djokovic Foundation focuses on early-childhood development and education.
After a few minutes of dancing and pictures with the kids, Djokovic gets back in a car to head to the third and final stop of the tour.
9:43 am – The group pulls into the American Museum of Natural History’s garage, out of the reach of the raindrops. Roberto Lebron, a communications representative for the museum, greets the group and leads everyone inside. The museum is not open to the public until 10:00 am, but Djokovic and company get an early sneak peak.
It’s not his first time there, though, as he took his son, Stefan, there last week.
Djokovic tells Zia Uehling that there are exhibits about oceans, dinosaurs and more. But he pauses for a couple of minutes before everyone moves on again.
9:50 am – The group splits into two elevators to head up to the fourth floor, where a short walk takes everyone to the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs in the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, which someone says is the “most visited” wing at the museum.
Djokovic poses for a number of pictures in front of a fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex as museum employees chat with him about what all that is around him.
9:55 am – After a second set of pictures, a photographer asks Djokovic if he can hug his trophy.
“Of course I can hug it!”
After a few more snaps: “Awesome!”
“Let’s see the crocodiles,” Djokovic says. The Serbian is sponsored by Lacoste.
9:58 am – Djokovic does a quick interview with ATP World Tour Uncovered in front of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“It’s not even 10:00 am and we’ve already done a few things…”
He says that the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs is his son’s “absolute favourite”, and in reflecting on his highs and lows in 2018, adds that, “the whole journey was very special.
“I’m excited for new challenges.”
10:05 am – Djokovic poses with an alligator, and then a crocodile, enjoying every second. Someone in the crowd jokes that the crocodile (which, of course, is not the real thing) might want to take a bite of the US Open trophy.
10:15 am – Djokovic speaks to a tour guide who details all of the different fossils they are walking by, and the Serbian is visibly interested in all of the history. The final stop on the tour is a cast of a 122-foot long Titanosaurus, whose head sticks out of its exhibit. “A plant-eater… my kind of guy!” Djokovic says.
As the day’s activities wrap up, Djokovic steps out of the Titanosaurus exhibit and into a cafe right around the bend to stand by a counter just inside the entrance.
As the photographers and staff await two elevators just feet away, Djokovic’s son, Stefan, arrives. Right as the media tour ends, it’s back to family life for the 31-year-old.
Stefan climbs into his father’s arms. And it’s fitting — the media fun, the trophy, the record $3.8 million in prize money and the thrill of victory are all nice, but it’s clear that Djokovic values one thing above all else: family.
That is who this triumph was truly for.