x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The era of Djokovic duly begins

What is striking about Djokovic's rise to No 1 status? Now that the 125th Wimbledon winners are revealed, it is time to look at some of such questions.

Novak Djokovic hoists the Wimbledon trophy on Sunday for the first time after beating Rafael Nadal.
Novak Djokovic hoists the Wimbledon trophy on Sunday for the first time after beating Rafael Nadal.

What's striking about Novak Djokovic's rise to No 1?

Mull it this way: he reached the end of 2010 at No 3 in the world. He had a lot of money and figured to make a lot more. He had played in three grand slam finals and had won the 2008 Australian Open, with another major sure to come somewhere.

He had emerged from a small country (Serbia) that spent his childhood war-ravaged. Anybody who would find him lacking for not reaching No 1 would qualify as a lunkhead. Still somehow, his inner-fibre contained that exceedingly rare mechanism that deemed such feats insufficient.

He famously notched one of the hardest human tricks and altered his diet whereupon he moved even more fluidly. (He's pretty much fashionably skinny.) His increased nimbleness seemed to mesh with those marvellous groundstrokes to instil increased boldness.

Including his businesslike dispatch of Roger Federer in Dubai in February, he stands 8-1 against Rafael Nadal and Federer during 2011 in the matches he has played against them. The word "Herculean" should not appear much, but with that statistic it warrants a turn.

Didn't the defeat of Nadal in the Wimbledon final just feel sort of …

Otherworldly? Yes. The second set - 6-1 to Djokovic - brought some new dimension barely recognisable to the human eye, seeing Rafael Nadal deconstructed and mulched in such a manner. And some special points must go to the way Djokovic closed. To reach the brink of a childhood dream and to dig out some creativity, suddenly serve-and-volleying for that excellent backhand volley on 30-30, revealed a self-assuredness big enough to forge cleverness mingled with a mind astute enough to employ it only in dabbles.

What's Djokovic like?

Oh, it's always hard to know with these stars, but I would guess the word "thoughtful" might apply. Often professional tennis players have spent so much of their childhood between those lines that the space behind the eyes can seem devoid of experience, but when Djokovic emerged in earnest in 2007, one journalist said of the mind behind his eyes: "There's somebody at home in there."

He came along as a reasonably observant human, was said to like the opera, once told Paul Kimmage of The Times, upon hearing that Kimmage suspected he would like Djokovic, "Well, you have two choices. You either like somebody or you don't like somebody."

Is there anything about Djokovic more impressive than Federer or Nadal?

I would think that coming from a ransacked, emerging nation would entail complications not present for those emerging from Switzerland or Spain circa 2000. I would think it would multiply the number of people trying to glom on, widen the chances for outright ugliness and deepen the stress.

Did Nadal live up to his magnanimousness in the post-match?

Oh, yes. Those blunt comments about how Djokovic has beaten him five times running, and how it means Nadal's game simply must not trouble Djokovic all that much, did not stop off to bask in denial. They came from a fully formed grown-up. All that said, it remains one of life's mysteries that at some stages of the match Nadal, of all people, appeared nervous.

Petra Kvitova?


Is she a new star?

Maybe, maybe not. The mishmash parity of the women's tour presents a marketing problem but not a tennis problem. So many players can win grand slams that it reflects a deep quality in the field. Her year does encourage, though, even with that first-match loss to Ayumi Morita in Dubai: four titles, two final appearances, Australian quarter-finals, in the last 16 in France with three-set loss to eventual champion, Li Na.

How did you think Venus and Serena Williams fared?

To reach the fourth round each after injury layoffs of five and 11 months, respectively, shows their continuing might, and the fact they did not exceed the fourth round shows the wide quality of the tour. Wimbledon often has zany sidelights; which one trumped all there this time? It would be hard to top Marion Bartoli's hilarious banishment of her father from Court 12 during her third-round match.

In fact, you might even call it groundbreaking. Maybe given the chequered history of tennis, there should have been a ceremonial dismissing of an overbearing tennis parent from every major tournament. There could be music, chanting, some sort of hideous non-red carpeting for a procession off the grounds into a waiting car which would ride around in perpetuity until tournament's end.

Well, will Federer win another grand slam?

I suspect so, yes