NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 22:  A Conversation With Novak Djokovic at the ASICS 5th Ave Flagship Store on August 22, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for ASICS)

Walking through Asics’ Fifth Avenue store in a white Lacoste polo shirt and sage green chinos Wednesday night, Novak Djokovic looked pretty relaxed for a U.S. Open competitor.

Ranked sixth on the tour, he heads to Flushing Meadows with the momentum of being this year’s Wimbledon champion and the first player to claim all nine ATP Masters 1000 events. During a question-and-answer session in the flagship, he described his fastidiousness and how elbow surgery imposed a lesson in patience. With $23.5 million in career earnings, Djokovic ranks 86th among Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes in earnings. Asics, Lacoste, Seiko and Head are among his sponsors. However laser-focused he was in talking about his sport, Djokovic really lit up at the sight of his young son Stefan, who taunted his father from the sales floor.

The youngster is nearing the age when Djokovic started picking up a racket. The Serbian-born pro said of last weekend’s Western and Southern Open championship win, “I started when I was four, so to be able to leave a legacy and a mark in the sport’s history is very special and I cherish that. I’m honored. I’m proud of it and I shared it with the team and the family just arrived in New York. So the whole family is united again, and we’re ready to go for the U.S. Open.”

In terms of his attention to detail, Djokovic said, “It starts with my parents. My parents always cared about details even when we were growing up under conditions of war, embargoes, sanctions and all these different economical difficulties. They still cared a lot about small details — how we behaved, how we did in school and in sports, how we dressed up and how we treated others, of course. The fundamental care for details starts there, and also from my first years with a coach, ‘my tennis mother,’ as I call her. She passed away…that is where I learned a lot about the holistic approach. Everything that you do off-the-court actually translates to your performance — nutrition, lifestyle and the mind-set.”

Recovering from surgery led to other revelations such as “how not to rush decisions, how to let go sometimes when you’re trying to change the course of certain actions, but you can’t,” he said. “You keep hitting your head against the wall when something is not changing and the question is, ‘Why? I’m doing everything harder or even better.’ But obviously sometimes you just have to let life arrange things.”

If all of this sounds a little zen, that, too, would be in line. Djokovic is public about the power of meditation even when staring down 130 miles-per-hour serves. Asked if he meditates on the court, he said, “Sure, the first rule of meditation is breathing, right? But conscious breathing. As an athlete, you have to learn how to breathe, anybody really on this planet, but for an athlete especially. When you get anxious facing break-point or match-point situations, there is the crowd and you are by yourself. No one substitutes for you like in team sports. You take the credit and you take the blame. It’s all in your hands.”

The way he sees it “the big work” is done before you get to a Grand Slam, that’s why hours of practice are needed, and early arrivals are required to get acclimated to the location, to hydrate and get in the right mind-set. “Then you get out on the court, you are actually capable of 100 percent of your abilities. Breathing is the most important thing that we all do and you have to master it to know how to cope with pressure and situations that are very stressful,” Djokovic said. “Even a guy like [Roger] Federer, who seems like nothing bothers him, I’m sure that he deals with a lot of emotions inside. But he has mastered the control over those emotions in his mind and that’s why he’s been so successful. All the biggest athletes in the history of sports have that in common — Michael Jordan — this ability to be in the zone where you need to be when it is most important. That is due to the understanding of who you are and the importance of dedication to every aspect and every detail so you can maximize your potential.”

Afterward, he spoke of other challenges. “Considering the tennis season is probably the longest season of all sports — 11 of the 12 months of the year — the amount of dedication that you need day-in and day-out on the practice courts, and the amount of matches and tournaments that you have to play is quite demanding. It’s not just that, even when you’re having weeks without tennis tournaments during the season, you can’t really get your eye off the ball. You still have to stay in it, committed, and mentally you’re still in the game. You’re thinking about the next tournament and how to prepare. There is really not much free time and free time is really a luxury for a tennis player. That’s probably the most grueling part.”

And fame is a dual-edged reward, Djokovic said, “That is very nice when people come up to you and congratulate you on what you have achieved, and say that you have inspired them, especially the kids. That’s what I focus on basically. The parts that are less good are the privacy and the intimacy that you lose. But that’s the price that you have to pay.”

Once the media rounds were done, Djokovic bolted toward his son, who had been towing his agent Edoardo Artaldi by the hand through the store. Artaldi said, “When you have a player like Novak, the expectations are always high. But we know that the competition in men’s tennis is so high. You always take into consideration that you have at least seven or eight players that are competing to win,” he said. “Our wish always is to bring the trophy home but we don’t want to put any pressure on. We go match-by-match and see where we arrive.”

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