Australian Open post final Press Conference, Melbourne, wee hours of the morning, January
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Many of you stayed this late. Thank you.
Reporter: We have to.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I know you have to, but make it look like you want to.
IT WAS Charlie Chaplin who once said “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”. Last year, on this blog I had written about M S Dhoni and how he seems never to take things too seriously and that could be a reason for his phenomenal success. Since then, Dhoni and his team have come unhinged faster than a rotting wooden door in a British Era building during the monsoons in Kolkata, but there’s been someone wlse who has been an epitome of not taking life too seriously. He also happened to win the Australian Open after a mind bogglingly epic and gruelling final that lasted a mere 5 hours and 53 minutes. (Perspective: That’s longer than all of India’s innings in Australia in the tests).
Even after the match was over, Australian newspaper The Age reported that Djokovic ‘summon(ed) the energy belt out a song in a cameo performance at the post-tournament staff party’. His song of choice? AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’!
Novak Djokovic is a strange kind of a tennis player. Federer is calm, collected, sophisticated and elegant almost to a fault. Rafael Nadal is volatile, yet intense, mercurial yet meticulous. Djokovic defies classification. The world of men’s professional tennis is an unforgiving mileu that has seen many a burn out (the legendarry Bjorn Borg retired very young) and the grind of the tour week in week out is not for the faint -hearted. Let’s put it this way – travelling salesman for multinational drug companies probably have it easier.
There was a time when Novak Djokovic’s claim to fame was not rip roaring, hard hitting tennis. It was the rip roaring laughter he elicited from audiences with his impressions of the tour’s leading players – from Federer to Nadal to Sharapova to even John McEnroe. Run a search for Djokovic on YouTube and you’re more likely to find his stand up routines in locker rooms during rain breaks or him in a Martin Solveig video (‘Hello’) than a video of him celebrating a grand slam win! Nicknamed the Djoker, it would have been easy to dismiss him as an also ran who made some good jokes. And that’s where the awesomeness of Nole lies.
He has worked relentlessly hard on his game and his fitness (he always credits his support staff for it and even Nadal acknowledged ‘Team Djokovic’ after the epic final) and fought his way to the top of the world rankings. In 2011, he was in supreme touch compiling a 70-6 record and collecting three grand slams along the way. Add to this the fact that in each of those slams he had to meet either Federer or Nadal (and in the US Open, both!!) and you realize how astonishing his current form is.
But he never seems to wear down. Perhaps his great sense of comedy and humor has something to do with it. He’s always playful yet focussed, somebody who genuinely seems to play down talks of all time greatness, rivalry and the whole shebang. The playful detachment seems to be doing him some great good. After the French Open 2011 semi final loss to Roger Federer (his only loss of the year at that point), Caroline Wozniacki (his neighbour in Monaco and a mean tennis player herself) gatecrashed his pre Wimbledon press conference as a fake reporter from ‘the Monaco newspaper on Avenue Princess Grace’ and posed the question ‘You know, you had this little losing streak of one, so what are you going to do to change that?’ Djokovic played along and replied ‘Well, you know what? I will try to look up to some women players who have been so consistent with their wins, for example like Caroline Wozniacki. I don’t know if you’ve heard about her. She’s been winning so much. She’s
become a role model for all of us ATP players. So I’m going to try to look (at) some of her matches and try to break this losing streak of one, you know, try to get on the right path.’
Djokovic happened to win Wimbledon.
I am not saying he doesn’t have skill. He works insanely diligently at it. But in the pressure cooker world of top flight tennis, the little mental advantage could be the difference between a win and a knock out. And I dare say, Djoko’s comic streak comes in handy. That’s why he is so fun to watch as a player, and even listen to at post match conferences. It’s a breath of fresh air amidst the canned answers and attitudes a host of other players bring.
I suspect if he had lost that final (it was close run thing, indeed) Djokovic would have been able to, to borrow a phrase from Comedy Central ‘laugh it off’. That’s an incredibly rare and amazing quality. In winning the Australian Open in a final that lasted an unprecedented 5 hours and 53 minutes (the longest ever Grand Slam final), Novak sure threw a lot of weekend plans for people out of gear.
This Djoker like the Joker in Batman is also an agent of chaos. Only difference is, Nole is an agent of happy chaos!