Novak Djokovic dropped to Wimbledon’s Centre Court in celebration and then. . .ate some blades of grass. “Well-kept,’’ he said. A few months ago, when he won the Australian Open, he started taking off clothes, throwing them into the crowd, then taking off more. Knowing him, he wasn’t sure to stop before it got embarrassing. But he did.
The thing is, Djokovic isn’t just for comic relief anymore. He is the king of tennis after beating Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win Wimbledon.
Djokovic has been crushing everyone, including Nadal and Roger Federer, all year. But you don’t prove that you’re best in Rome or Madrid, Indian Wells or Miami. It happens at Wimbledon (or the U.S. Open). He is now 48-1 this year, winning two of three majors and beating Nadal five times with no losses.
He officially earned the computer No. 1 ranking on Friday, but proved Sunday that he deserved it.
“Couple good days at the office, yeah,’’ he said, not just holding the trophy, but sort of hugging it. “Really, honestly, the big day of my life.’’
The tennis world already accepts Djokovic and knows he has ruled the game this year. But without Nadal-Federer at the top, will tennis still sell to anyone outside the club?
Well, Nadal still has won four of the past six majors, so it’s not as if he’s gone. Federer is still third-best, and the one player to have beaten Djokovic this year. Maybe tennis can sell a three-way rivalry instead of two? Maybe, but No. 1 has to be the big seller.
In the U.S., anyway, that Nadal-Federer Wimbledon amazingly caught fire as it was happening. Federer had been Mr. Perfect, and seen – to potential U.S. marketers – as a little boring. Nadal came along as a contrast, with long hair, big muscles and yes, pirate pants. Remember? Then they had their classic match.
All along, Djokovic was the Other Guy, comic relief with funny impersonations of other players. The players didn’t have the best sense of humor about that. And he ticked off fans at the U.S. Open, too, after Andy Roddick had accused him of faking injuries and sickness, something Djokovic did regularly. Fans booed Djokovic after he beat Roddick, and he chastised them over the p.a. Advice: Never chastise fans, especially ones from New York.
But Djokovic has made up with New York, even calling John McEnroe out of the TV booth to joke around and hit some balls after a short, unsatisfying match at Ashe Stadium.
Djokovic is always doing something goofy, with one commercial showing him chasing a tennis ball into the stands, stopping to flirt with a woman and trying to impress her. At one point, he lifts his shirt to show nipple tassels swinging in a circle. That is your tennis king now?
Yes, this game can use such a personality at the top. It has had personalities, but none like this. Also, his English is much clearer than Nadal’s, which will help on Wall Street. You rarely see Nadal in an ad in the U.S.
Well, a first Wimbledon title is a personal thing, too, of course, and Djokovic was emotional. He has been saying for two weeks that his boyhood dream was to win Wimbledon. He is from Serbia, and doesn’t like to talk about growing up in a war-torn area, but that’s part of his emotion now, too.
“I think every child has a dream to become something in his life,’’ he said. “We live from those dreams. . .I mean, I started in the mountains, started in a very small place, and then I continued in Belgrade practicing tennis that wasn’t really popular at the times.
“We were going through some really difficult periods. You know, our country had wars and stuff. So it wasn’t easy to hold that desire and really believe in yourself. But I always did, and the people close to me did. So to reach here, it is something really special.’’
He climbed the final step by fixing his serve and changing his diet after discovering a gluten allergy. That couldn’t be easy for someone who’s parents owned a pizza joint. He has the world’s best return of serve, and amazing speed and flexibility. And somewhere in there, he just learned to believe.
Djokovic dominated rallies in the first set, but Nadal served so well that he kept even. Down 4-5, though, Nadal felt the pressure of having to win his service points. After missing just two first serves up until then, he missed three of four and lost the set.
In the third set, Nadal started mixing up spins and paces, even moving way back on some points, crowding the baseline on others. Djokovic’ game is based on timing, and Nadal was messing it up.
Still, Djokovic was playing too well for Nadal to make any mistakes. And down 3-4 in the fourth, Nadal double-faulted the first point. That was about it.
“My game doesn’t bother him a lot,’’ Nadal said. “I have to find solutions.’’
Djokovic is in Nadal’s head, but Nadal has spent his career finding solutions to Federer, then grass courts, then hard courts. He is the chaser again.
Everyone is. The joker (Djoker?) is now king.