Novak Djokovic couldn’t think about No. 24 without thinking of the late Kobe Bryant.
So after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday night for a historic 24th Grand Slam title, Djokovic put on a blue t-shirt that honored the Los Angeles Lakers great.
The shirt read ‘Mamba Forever’ on the front, along with pictures of Bryant and the world’s No. 1 tennis player, also known as ‘The Joker’, a.k.a Djokovic. On the back in purple was No. 24, one of two numbers Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career.
Djokovic, 36, said he came up with the idea about a week ago as a way to honor his friend, who also shared a passion for supporting Italian soccer club, AC Milan.
He said he received advice on his own career from Bryant, who died in 2020 in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Novak Djokovic paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after winning his 24th Grand Slam title on Sunday
Djokovic, 36, showed off the last jersey No. which Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career
Djokovic said that Bryant helped him ‘a lot’ while he was struggling with injury a few years back
‘Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game,’ said Djokovic. ‘He was one of the people that I relied on the most.’
‘He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way,’ Djokovic added. ‘So of course what happened a few years ago and him and his daughter passing hurt men deeply, and I thought 24 is the jersey he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball, so I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him for all the things he’s done.’
The Serb, who also paid tribute to Bryant at this year’s Australian Open in January, gained sweet revenge over Daniil Medvedev on Sunday with a sapping 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 US Open final triumph in New York as he matched the all-time majors record of Australian legend Margaret Court.
A 24th slam eluded Serena Williams, who lost her last four major finals before retiring last year, but not Djokovic, who also becomes the oldest man to win the Flushing Meadows title in the 55-year professional era.
The 36-year-old replaced Australian great Ken Rosewall – who was 35 when he won the 1970 US Open – in the record books with his three-hour, 16-minute victory.
It’s well-documented that Djokovic & Bryant shared a common passion in rooting for AC Milan
Djokovic got emotional when speaking up on his friendship with Bryant at the Australian Open
Djokovic (R) is now level with Australian legend Margaret Court for the all-time majors record
Sunday’s clash was a rematch of the 2021 final, which Medvedev won in straight sets for his lone major title to deny Djokovic a fabled calendar-year grand slam sweep.
Djokovic has now taken three of the four available grand slams in 2023, having also won the Australian Open and Roland Garros while losing the Wimbledon final in five sets to Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz.
His fourth title from 10 Flushing Meadows finals propels the undisputed tennis GOAT back to the top of the rankings, replacing dethroned champion Alcaraz.
Of more importance to Djokovic is his record against his peers; he is now two clear of Nadal’s 22 grand slam crowns and four ahead of Roger Federer, who declared last year on 20.
Third-seeded Medvedev, who knocked out Australians 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 title deciders – two each to Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Medvedev lost to Nadal in New York in 2019 and Melbourne last year, and was beaten by Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open.
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