Novak Djokovic weighs in on Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles Olympic drama

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In this picture, Simone Biles, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are seen during the Olympics.
Novak Djokovic was asked about dealing with pressure in the wake of the Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka drama in Tokyo. Pic: Getty

Mental health and dealing with the immense pressure that comes with being an elite athlete have been running themes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Naomi Osaka crashed out of the tennis in Tokyo under the heavy burden of carrying the host nation's hopes on her shoulders, while American gymnast Simone Biles sensationally withdrew from two events in an apparent crisis of confidence.

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Both women have admitted to battling mental health concerns, with the pressure from the weight of expectation they carry impossible for anyone else to know.

Novak Djokovic was asked to give his thoughts on pressure after winning his opening three matches at the Olympic Games - the World No.1 still on track to complete the fabled 'golden slam' in tennis.

The top-ranked Serb was asked how he deals with the pressure of attempting to accomplish something that no man has done before in tennis: win all four grand slam in the same year as claiming an Olympic gold.

Steffi Graf in 1988 is the only tennis player to achieve the Golden Slam, winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same calendar year.

Asked what his take on pressure was, Djokovic's response proved an illuminating insight into what makes him so special.

“Pressure is a privilege, my friend,” Djokovic said in answer to a reporter's question after winning both of his matches at the Ariake Tennis Park on Wednesday.

Pictured here, Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning a match at the Tokyo Olympics.
Novak Djokovic has learnt to thrive off pressure after struggling early in his career. Pic: Getty

Novak Djokovic learnt to cope with pressure

The Serb beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain to reach the quarterfinals in singles, then teamed up with partner Nina Stojanovic for another victory in the opening round of mixed doubles.

“Without pressure there is no professional sport,” Djokovic added. 

“If you are aiming to be at the top of the game you better start learning how to deal with pressure and how to cope with those moments — on the court but also off the court."

Djokovic, who has already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year and needs the Tokyo Games title and the US Open trophy to complete a Golden Slam, said he has learned to deal with all expectations.

“All that buzz and all that noise is the thing that, I can’t say I don’t see it or I don’t hear it, of course it’s there, but I’ve learned, I’ve developed the mechanism how to deal with it in such a way that it will not impose destruction to me. It will not wear me down,” Djokovic said. "I feel I have enough experience to know myself how to step on the court and play my best tennis.”

Djokovic struggled more with mental pressure at the start of his career when he wasn't winning as much as longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He won the Wimbledon title this month to match Federer and Nadal with his 20th Grand Slam.

“Of course. It’s normal,” Djokovic said. “No one is born with those abilities. Those abilities come with time.”

Osaka and Biles are among the Olympians who have talked openly about their mental health troubles.

Seen here, tennis star Naomi Osaka and US gymnast Simone Biles.
Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have admitted to mental health issues after both enduring disappointing Olympic campaigns. Pic: Getty

Djokovic's only Olympic medal was bronze in singles from his first Olympic appearances at the 2008 Beijing Games. He then lost to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in his next two Games: in the 2012 bronze-medal match and the first round at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

“Rio was (a) very tough loss for me,” Djokovic said. 

“I came into Rio as also a big favorite, winning four out of last five Grand Slams, No. 1 in the world. So I know that feeling; it’s kind of a similar feeling now. 

"But I’m a more experienced player; I know mentally what I need to do and how to work things around on and off the court in order to feel the best that I possible can feel.”

with agencies

Watch 'Mind Games', the new series from Yahoo Sport Australia exploring the often brutal mental toil elite athletes go through in pursuit of greatness:

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