Novak Djokovic has paid an emotional tribute to the late Kobe Bryant after winning his 24th grand slam title - the number that Kobe wore for the LA Lakers. Djokovic became the oldest man to win the US Open in the professional era on Sunday (local time), claiming his fourth crown in Flushing Meadows and the 24th of his career.
In doing so he extended his lead over Rafa Nadal in the men's all-time grand slam race to two, and also equalled the overall record (men's or women's) - held by controversial Australian Margaret Court. Djokovic donned a shirt during the post-match celebrations featuring a photo of himself and Bryant before the NBA legend's death.
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Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, wore the number 24 for the LA Lakers. Djokovic's shirt also featured the number 24 and the words 'Mamba Forever' - Bryant's famous nickname.
Djokovic wearing a Kobe shirt after winning his 24th major tournament 💛 💜 pic.twitter.com/v7ZzBycllC
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 11, 2023
Djokovic explained his connection to Bryant and the reasons why he chose to pay tribute to the basketball icon in his victory speech. "I thought of doing this t-shirt a few days ago if I get the chance to win the tournament," the 36-year-old Serbian explained.
"Kobe was close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner's mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to work my way back to the top of the game. He was one of the people I relied on the most."
"What happened a few years ago, his passing, hurt me deeply. I thought 24 - it was the jersey he wore when he became the legend, so I thought it might be a nice, symbolic thing to honour him."
Bryant's daughter Gianna was also killed in the accident, en route to her basketball game in California. Djokovic shares a special bond with his daughter Tara and embraced her court-side immediately after winning the final on Sunday.
Novak Djokovic's heartfelt tribute to Kobe Bryant is a beautiful reminder of the lasting impact Kobe had beyond basketball. 🏀❤️ True champions support each other, and Novak's words honor Kobe's legacy both on and off the court. 🙏
— Futbol Xperience (@FutbolXperience) September 11, 2023
Very cool of him to do that
— B. Klaus (@B_Klaus) September 11, 2023
That’s awesome. Miss the Mamba.
— Amit Momaya (@AmitMomayaMD) September 11, 2023
— 🧑🏾🦯 (@KamSaucy2x) September 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic makes more history with US Open title
Djokovic proved far too good for Daniil Medvedev on Sunday, winning the final 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 7-6. In doing so he exacted revenge on his Russian opponent, who beat him in the US Open final in 2021 to deny him the first calendar year Grand Slam in men's tennis since 1969.
"I don't know where to start - it means the world to me," Djokovic said in his victory speech. "I'm kind of repeating myself but I have to say it every time that I'm really living my childhood dream.
"To compete at the highest level in this sport that has given me and my family so much, coming from very difficult circumstances and adversities in the 90s, a couple of wars in our country, and being able to push through that. Especially my parents, giving a lot of sacrifices to support me to play. I love you, so thank you so much.
"To support me to play this sport; it is a very expensive sport. At that time (it was) very expensive, not accessible, not affordable, but I fell in love with it, this tennis.
"No one has played tennis in my family before so it was quite a choice, I must say. So everyone in my family - my wife, my children, my team, this is as much your trophy as mine."
Medvedev, who knocked out Australian players Chris O'Connell and Alex de Minaur, as well as reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz on his way to the final, has now lost four grand slam finals - two each to Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Medvedev lost to Nadal at the US Open in 2019 and the Australian Open last year, and was also beaten by Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open.
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