Novak Djokovic channels 'Mamba Mentality' to create more tennis history at US Open

Serbian star pays tribute to Kobe Bryant after securing a record-extending 24th Grand Slam title

Novak Djokovic displays his 'Mamba Forever' t-shirt during the trophy presentation at the US Open. Reuters
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In the moments between sealing victory in the US Open final and being presented with a Grand Slam trophy for a record 24th time, Novak Djokovic had time for a quick wardrobe change.

He peeled off his battle-worn Lacoste tennis polo and slipped on a fresh sky-blue T-shirt with '24' displayed as a jersey number on the back; on the front, a photo of Djokovic alongside the late basketball great Kobe Bryant between the words 'Mamba Forever'.

In a tribute to his friend, Djokovic turned and pointed his thumbs at the numbers – '24' was the number Bryant wore during his legendary Los Angeles Lakers career – before spinning around and pointing his index fingers at the image of Bryant. Four years after retiring, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash in 2020.

"Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winners' mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to work my way back to the top," Djokovic said during the trophy presentation inside Arthur Ashe Stadium after defeating Daniil Medvedev in a gruelling final on Sunday night for his fourth US Open title.

"He was one of the people I relied on the most, he was always there for support in the most friendly way.

"His passing hurt me deeply and 24 is the jersey he wore at Lakers so I thought it would be nice to acknowledge him."

Bryant, whose nickname was 'Black Mamba', lived by a mantra he called the 'Mamba Mentality', the five pillars of which are: Fearlessness, Relentlessness, Passion, Obsessiveness, and Resilience.

Those pillars have evidently been channelled by Djokovic throughout his incomparable tennis career. More than that, in fact: the Mamba Mentality is the very foundation upon which Djokovic has become the most decorated male player in Grand Slam history.

On Sunday night in New York City, the Serb relied on his trademark relentlessness and resilience to come through a brutal one-hour 44-minute second set having appeared physically troubled. His fearlessness, coming up clutch in the vital moments, proved the difference in a match that was much closer than the 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 scoreline suggests.

And of course, Djokovic's passion and obsessiveness are what led a young boy from war-torn Serbia with no family history in tennis to become the greatest male player to ever swing a racquet, while continuing to drive him forward in pursuit of more greatness.

If there was a Mamba Mentality University, Djokovic would be its chancellor.

More history for Djokovic

The US Open concluded yet another remarkable Grand Slam season for Djokovic. Just when we thought there were no more records he could claim, he added a few more to his legacy. By winning three of the four majors this year, Djokovic became the first male player to do so on four occasions.

"I would definitely sign right away the paper if somebody would tell me I would win three out of four and play Wimbledon finals this year," Djokovic said.

"There is a little regret that I didn't win that Wimbledon final. But, at the end of the day, I have so much more to be happier and content with than actually to regret something."

Victory in New York made Djokovic the oldest US Open champion in the Open era – a record that he could feasibly break next year, and the year after, and the year after that, such is his sheer brilliance and super-human fitness.

Djokovic has also returned to the top of the rankings and this week will be his record-extending 390th as world No 1, a full 80 weeks more than Roger Federer in second.

While Djokovic's dominance is nothing new – the tennis world has been accustomed to it for the better part of 12 years – there has been one notable difference this year: a clear softening of attitude from the wider tennis public toward the Serb.

It has long been one of tennis' great enigmas that Djokovic, arguably the greatest player of all time, was not universally loved in the same way as Federer or Rafael Nadal. While he will perhaps never receive the same level of support as his fellow 'Big Three', there has been a growing emotional connection this season.

Perhaps the emergence of Carlos Alcaraz as a genuine rival this year, breathing fresh life into the pinnacle of the men's game, has reignited excitement after years of eye-rollingly routine Grand Slam success for Djokovic. Perhaps the retirement of Federer and the imminent end of Nadal's career has forced fans into appreciating Djokovic more while he's still here.

Whatever the reason for the apparent shift, it's not going to affect Djokovic either way.

"It's not my interest or business to really review what everyone talks about or thinks," Djokovic said.

"I focus on what I need to do and how I get myself in an optimal state so that I can win the biggest trophies in our sport. That's what I care about."

There it is again: Mamba Mentality.

Updated: September 11, 2023, 6:38 AM