ATP Finals: Djokovic confident he will be the man to beat in 2023
Novak Djokovic has no doubt in his own mind he is the best tennis player in the world, regardless of what the rankings say.
After clinching a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title by downing Casper Ruud in Turin, Djokovic reflected on a turbulent 2022 season in which he was unable to play in two of the four grand slam events.
His refusal to accept a COVID-19 vaccination meant Djokovic was denied permission to compete at the Australian Open and US Open, while the various tennis authorities' reaction to the Ukraine crisis meant no ranking points were on offer at Wimbledon.
Indeed, Djokovic successfully defended his title at the All England Club, but in doing so he lost all of his 2,000 points for being the 2021 champion.
As such, he entered the ATP Finals as the world number eight, with his unbeaten run at the tournament seeing him collect 1,500 points and jump up to fifth on the ATP ranking list.
Carlos Alcaraz is the number one for now, after a stellar season for the 19-year-old Spaniard in which the highlight was his US Open victory, but Djokovic will be the favourite with many for the Australian Open, with authorities expected to allow him to play next year.
Asked if he was the world's best player, Djokovic said: "I'm not. I'm fifth."
That came with a smile from the Serbian, who added: "This week I probably am [the best]. Overall the rankings are showing who had the best year, and Alcaraz is the number one in the world. Not much to say about that.
"But in my mind I always see myself as the best player in the world, of course. I have that kind of mentality and that kind of approach. Regardless of who is across the net, regardless of what the surface is, regardless of what season it is, what number of the professional season in my career we're facing, I mean, it's always the same. The ambitions are as high as possible.
"That kind of approach, I feel it brought me to where I am sitting here today as a 35-year-old, holding one of the biggest trophies in the sport."
The 21-time grand slam winner, one behind Rafael Nadal on the men's all-time singles list, said the prospects for future success come down to his "love and passion" for tennis.
"As long as that's there I'll do anything in my power to challenge the young guys for the biggest trophies," Djokovic said.
"I don't know what the future holds, but I know that what I hold in my mind is a huge hunger still to win trophies, make history of this sport, compete on the highest level all around the world, bring good emotions to sports fans, tennis fans."
Djokovic was greeted after the final by Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another sporting evergreen at the age of 41, albeit very much in his career twilight.
The same cannot be said yet for Djokovic, who may have several seasons left at this high level.
His coach, former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, watched on admiringly as Djokovic won 7-5 6-3 in Turin against Ruud on Sunday.
According to Croatian Ivanisevic, the key to Djokovic's success in his mid-thirties is his relentless work rate.
"He's practising even harder than when he was 22," said Ivanisevic. "That's why he's still so good and that's why he's still going to be even better.
"The will to practise, the will to improve, the will to be better is amazing. He's taking care of his body. In my time we stopped tennis at 30, 31. You were already an old guy ready to leave.
"They all talk about, yes, young players are coming. It's great for tennis. You have the youngest number one in the world who made unbelievable things this year, Carlos. But look at Novak. He's still hungry, he's still winning the tournament, playing unbelievable tennis. He's still already thinking now about preparation for next season.
"Till he's like that, in his mind he's going to be always competitive, favourite to win majors and the big tournaments."