Coming Of Age.
Posted by gauloises1 on January 31, 2011
I remember a few years ago arguing with a Fedal-loving friend about Novak Djokovic. She cited the usual arguments: he’s cocky; his parents are awful; he disrespects his opponents by impersonating them; he retires too much; he’s too desperate to be liked. I pointed out that those things were even at the time too outmoded to be used as evidence, and added that the process of Djokovic growing up, adjusting to his status and learning to own it, and dealing with his own fluctuating confidence was reason enough to want to watch him. She said that not being a child psychologist, she had no interest in seeing him grow up. Fine, I said. But I do.
2011 Australian Open men’s singles champion.
Novak Djokovic is the champion in Melbourne for a second time, but there’s no illusion of coming full circle. He’s three years older, immeasurably wiser, and a much, much better player. And we all had a chance to see him without his hair for a bit, so now we’re able to fully appreciate it. This story could not be better.
Like a kitten, I tell you.
OK, it could have been better. It would have been, well, nicer for me if his great win didn’t come at the expense of Andy Murray once again falling at the final hurdle, by which we mean looking basically like a chump in a Slam final. I’m so not in the mood to participate in the what’s-wrong-with-Andy-Murray game right now, partly because I don’t think that he showed us anything different in this final to the ones he’s played before; the difference is that it was Djokovic across the net, not Federer, so the disappointment is that much greater apparently. And that’s a point of view that’s not only vaguely disrespectful but totally blind to the player that Djokovic has become over the past six months.
Murray was lame at times, flat at others, and just not there in the way he needed to be. But the disappointment of the last two sets overshadows the brilliance of the first nine games when it looked like it was going to be a fantastic contest, and the main reason that it wasn’t lies in the fact that once Djokovic had the first set in the bag, he simply ran away with the match. Every time Murray did have an opportunity to get back into the match, Djokovic snuffed it out with that pummeling forehand and brilliant defending. Murray will have his moment, but this wasn’t it.
This moment belonged to Djokovic. I didn’t have a chance to talk about Djokovic’s victory over Federer – remarkably stupid scheduling decisions on my part, sorry – but ever since last year’s US Open, he’s looked a different player. Not back to his old self, but a new and better player, with an improved forehand, a smarter tactical sense, and a confidence that seemed rooted deeper and hence less likely to be peeled away by success or the lack of it. After all the losses, heartbreaking and lacklustre alike, his health problems and what looked like an inability to draw a clear line between his life off court and what happened on it, he’s come out of the other side a new man and a better player. And we all got to watch it happen. Tennis is great.
Djokovic has always talked a good game, but I can’t have been the only person impressed by his conduct on Sunday, both on the court and in his press conference. He was poised and mature, looking every inch the champion from the moment he first set foot on Rod Laver; his celebrations were muted, in line with the match; and his victory speech, in which he dedicated the victory to Serbia and took the time to acknowledge the Australian flood victims, was moving.
Q. You took a tough loss here last year, Roland Garros obviously, and then even Wimbledon. Did something happen in between Wimbledon and the hard courts where you regained confidence?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Something switched in my head, because I am very emotional on and off the court. I show my emotions. This is the way I am. Everybody’s different.
The things off court were not working for me, you know. It reflected on my game, on my professional tennis career. But then, you know, I settled some things in my head. It was all on me. You know, I had to try to find the best possible solution and try to get back on the right track. That’s what I did.
Q. Can you talk about some of those secrets that you discovered about yourself that helped you get back on track?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I said, you know, something switched in my head. It’s been a big mental struggle, because I was trying to separate my, of course, professional life from my more private life.
But, you know, if somebody’s emotional we’re all humans. It’s not possible. If something isn’t working off court, then it’s going to reflect on the court. I managed to solve that problems.
This is all part of life. Of course, everybody’s facing difficult situations in their lives. To overcome the crisis and to stand up and try to still dedicate yourself to the sport was a big success for me as a person.
Developing as a person and a tennis player doesn’t always happen at a constant rate or go in a positive direction, and you only have to look at Andy Murray to know that that’s true. I’m not saying Djokovic is suddenly a saint or is going to be winning everything from now on. He’s just a man, albeit more a man than ever. But right now – for now – he’s absolutely at the peak of the tennis world. And he looks so good there. I hope it lasts.