Djokovic On Federer: 'He's A Role Model, Even For Me'
After 49 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, Novak Djokovic knows what an outstanding performance from Roger Federer looks like.
Although Djokovic voiced displeasure with his play against Federer during Thursday’s defeat at the Nitto ATP Finals, he tipped his hat to the Swiss for producing a stunning performance. The Swiss finished the night with 23 winners to just five unforced errors and didn't drop serve. Having saved two championship points in their clash at this year’s Wimbledon final, the capacity crowd at The O2 knew that Djokovic was capable of a Houdini act, but Federer was not to be denied.
The five-time champion at this event also expressed admiration for Federer delivering world-class tennis at age 38. Thirteen years after he beat the Serbian in their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, he continues to find ways to take Djokovic out of his comfort zone.
“He was the better player in all aspects and absolutely deserved to win,” said Djokovic. “He served great, moved well, returned my serve very well. From his end, I think he did everything right. From my end, I was just playing too neutral. I couldn't read his serve well. Just a pretty bad match from my side.
“[But] I have the utmost admiration for him and everything he's doing on the court. What he has achieved over the years and what he's still showing on the court is phenomenal. He's a role model, even for me, and one of the toughest opponents I’ve had in my career. Looking at his career and what he's still doing just inspires you.”
The loss was a double blow for Djokovic. Not only did it end his week at The O2, but it guaranteed that Rafael Nadal will finish as year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. Djokovic was looking to finish as year-end No. 1 for a record-tying sixth time.
But the Serbian said it wasn’t the first, or likely the last, difficult moment in his storied career. After 16 years on the ATP Tour, he has learned to navigate the highs and lows that can occur in professional tennis and expected to bounce back quickly.
Read More: Nadal Clinches Year-End No. 1 Ranking
“I have lost so many matches in my life that I know how to move on. This is no different," Djokovic said. “I’ve played Roger almost 50 times now. Played Rafael Nadal  times. Every loss is painful, but when you play your biggest rivals, that adds a little bit of an extra flavor to the win or the loss.
“At the end of the day, we're professionals and I have been privileged to play this sport in the highest level for many years. I think that gives me experience on knowing how to accept things, move on and look for another opportunity.”
Although Djokovic gave full credit to Federer for the win, he admitted experiencing right elbow pain in the second set. The Serbian stretched out and rubbed his elbow in between points, but did not believe it was a reoccurrence of the injury that forced him to retire during this year’s US Open. Djokovic said he expects to still represent Serbia next week during the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.
“I hope it's nothing that will make me unable me to play [in] Madrid. The pain was pretty sharp,” Djokovic said. “But I could play the rest of the match. If I had something really serious, I think I wouldn't be able to hold the racquet. So it was probably just an awkward, quick movement that I did. It did not pose any issues later on.”