Superb article in The Times Magazine by Matthew Syed (author of ‘Bounce’) yesterday on Novak Djokovic which is well worth a read to any tennis fan, coach, player, or parent. Where does his resilience, his hunger, his ability to suspend emotion at the critical moment in a match come from? What about enjoyment? What sacrifices does he make?
‘During the 78-day bombardment, he practiced tennis whenever Nato had bombed the day before, reasoning that they wouldn’t hit the same place twice.’ Before the bombing a trade embargo was in place. ‘I had the experience of queuing for bread and milk. Looking back, it was a horrific experience. But it gave us hope and strength, too.’
‘His discipline is legendary. After beating Rafael Nadal in an epic six-hour battle in the final of the 2012 Australian Open, he craved chocolate. He hadn’t tasted it for more than two years. His coach was dispatched to find him a chocolate bar. Djokovic broke off one, small corner and let it melt slowly on his tongue. He then cast the rest of the bar aside. “That is what it has taken to get to No 1,” he once said.’
‘I wonder if, after all the years of sacrifice, he still enjoys his tennis. “That is such an important question,” he says. “I worry about the young children starting the game. They are being pushed so hard by their parents. My advice to them is to smile. This is also true of professional players. The competitiveness of the modern game has created great anxiety. Players are so focused on winning and making money that they have forgotten the reason they started to play in the first place. It should be about joy. I’m not saying that losing should not hurt you. If you want to be a champion, losing should be painful. But you should not keep the feeling inside you for too long. That is the key point. That is the difference between the top players, who are able to recharge quickly, and those who dwell on it. Passion must always be the real source of why you play the game.”’
The two Swiss men put on a real show last night. Whilst my heart is in Federer’s corner in the final, Djokovic will be the deserving winner come 10pm or so tonight and I’ll admire and respect him even more for it.