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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.


Yes, you.

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.


14 Responses to “Coming Of Age.”

  1. naughty T....urbane gentleman said

    Firstly G let me say sorry for the Muzzardly loss.. it cannot be easy watching him come up short for a 3rd time. I have nothing much more to add about why that should be so, it is painfully obvious for all to see what went wrong (again)
    As to Djoko .. is there anyone that has a more improved weapon than his forehand. I am astounded at what it has become. To have become a better shot that Fudds is something truly exceptional. It did so much damage in the course of the two weeks it was amazing. Now that is not to say I have become a lover of his game.. He is still too much of a grinder for my liking, and I do think that no matter how bendy he is, he is heading for huge problems with his body if he keeps playing the way he is. We already see the knee bandaging, I see huge problems ahead despite him having added some voodoo doctor to his team.

    Still congrats. He was overwhelmingly the best player in the tourny and I want him on the other side of the fucking draw from fudd for a change. thanks.

  2. naughty T....urbane gentleman said

    oh and really what is up with the non appearance of ma and pa Djoko downunder? Is it part of the growing up? Saying stay away from my matches until you sort yourselves out and stop saying stupid things about me?

  3. AmyLu said

    I wish I had more to say about this final, but I didn’t actually watch it live and have only seen bits and pieces of it. I just oculdn’t get out of bed when the alarm went off at 3:30 and told JJ to wake me up at the start of the third set — at which point he came and told me I should keep sleeping so I did.

    I am thrilled that Djokovic seems to have his game back — the game that I’ve been missing since IW 2008. I do agree, though, that this time it feels different. Mainly, I think, because he has matured in all sense of the word, and I’m hoping that he can keep this form and focus for the entire year.

  4. AmyLu said

    And, I also want to say that I’m sorry the final disappointed so many people I consider friends. Not going to pretend that I wanted Murray to win, but I don’t like having my friends be disappointed so I hope Murray brings all of you a reason to smile this season. 🙂

    • gauloises1 said

      You know, everyone was texting me thinking I’d be cliffing myself, but I felt oddly calm about it and still do. Maybe that had something to do with how tired/hungover I was (that is the LAST time I go on a big weekend at the end of the AO), but I just didn’t feel in that much despair. Disappointed, yes, but … I still think he can win one, and I still think he will. Maybe I’m delusional. It would help if he made more than one final (or avoided an embarrassing early-round exit at the US Open) this year.

      • AmyLu said

        I’m glad you don’t feel much despair, and I think it’s perfectly natural to be disappointed. I much prefer when I either feel anger/irritation/disappointment after a sporting event than despair/sadness. I’m not sure why, but it seems like there’s much more to build on when you have those emotions. And call it optimism, call it delusion, but I think you should think he can win one. I mean that’s the point of being a fan, right?

  5. harini said

    First, so sorry about Andy’s loss. I know this must be hard for you and other Muzz fans so *hugs* and hope he wins a Slam soon so everyone can just shut up about him not winning!

    Second, I was so impressed with Nole in this match. His defense was amazing – he reminded me of when I first saw him play about 5 years ago at Wimbledon and how scared I was for Rafa that he was playing this kid in the next round. And even though he has played well since then, there were times when I wondered where that scary new kid went. He was back in the final, just pummeling his groundstrokes and excelling in his defense. As you said, if Murray had kept up the level he played in the first set, the match would have been a great display from both players, not just one of them.

    Still, good luck to Murray in the next few Slams and I really do hope he wins one. His time will come.

  6. Nina said

    Hi Gauloises, I love your articles, they are always emotive and imaginative, also with a personal touch which i prefer.
    I’m a huge Nole fan and I agree with all this talk about his coming of age and the fine mature person he’s become. He’s done that transition from boyhood to manhood. People tend to forget these kids are just 23, I was free of responsabilities or pressure at that age, and I’m sure I made and said a lot of stupid things. But they’re constantly in the spotlight, and their actions and words scrutinized with a lens.

    I think Novak has improved a lot as a player. He said it himself. He’s stronger, faster and a better player than he was in 2008. He showed all that in spades in that match against Fed. I think everyone was equally impressed. There was no way the way he was playing that Murray could have won, under-performance notwithstanding.

    I believe Murray will be a contender for all the slams, I would never write him off. He just needs to reach finals like he’s doing and the results will come. I hope this bad loss won’t affect his season. And as everyone else have said before, he’s too good not to win a slam. Or multiple slams.

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