Saturday, 29 January 2011

National pride fuels Djokovic

Novak Djokovic 

Novak Djokovic celebrates his semi-final victory over Roger Federer. The Serb is seeking his second grand slam title. Photograph: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images
It was Janko Tipsarevic, Serbia's third-best player, who put it perfectly. "With all respect to all other great competitors that this country had, Novak Djokovic is the best sportsman in our history." The world No49 posted the statement on Twitter after Djokovic's brilliant 7-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Roger Federer in the semi-finals here, a win that puts the 23-year-old Serb on the verge of his second grand slam.

Tipsarevic should know – after all, he was part of the team that created history for Serbia when they won the Davis Cup so brilliantly and emotionally last month. Djokovic won both his singles matches and the world No3 said the celebrations lasted "two days and two nights". "After that we were completely gone and we got sick, so that tells you all."

For Djokovic, winning the Davis Cup was a hugely pivotal moment. A proud patriot, "Nole" Djokovic has never turned his back on the competition in the way Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and, more recently, Andy Murray have done by skipping matches in favour of concentrating on the grand slams. He has played almost all of his country's ties since he made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2004 and victory over France in Belgrade was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"Our athletes are probably our biggest ambassadors for our country," Djokovic said. "There were celebrations all over the world. The people really loved the success that we have. Tennis has become a very popular sport in our country in the last two or three years. Before that, it was only team sports. We are still a nation of team sports – we are very successful in basketball, volleyball, handball and water polo. Tennis never had a long history."

Having won the Australian Open three years ago, Djokovic goes into final without the pressure of needing to break his grand slam duck. While Britain has been craving a men's champion for 75 years since Fred Perry's last US Open triumph, Serbia has been blessed with two grand slam winners in Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic.
Djokovic knows Murray well, having first met the Scot for the first time when they were 13 in a junior tournament in France. The Serb remembers Murray as having "big hair" and finding his Scottish accent tough to understand. From that moment on, their lives have been intertwined and Djokovic has seen his friend have to deal with the pressure of a nation.

It is a pressure he might have had to cope with too, had he accepted an offer from the LTA, soon after the arrival of Roger Draper, to switch his allegiance from Serbia to Britain when he first hit the senior ranks. Financial assistance was the main reason Djokovic even considered the offer, which would have involved taking up residency in the UK and shunning Davis Cup tennis until he qualified to play for Britain, but a quick rise up the rankings brought its own rewards and he kept his heart in Serbia.

While more than a dozen newspaper reporters and perhaps twice that number of television and radio workers have travelled here to follow Murray's every move, there are only a couple of Serbian journalists on site and Djokovic joked that he spent more time speaking English these days than he does his native language. "On the one hand I would like to be in [Murray's] shoes because he gets a big support obviously, because of the country that he comes from," he said. "On the other hand I wouldn't like it because of the media attention and the pressure that he faces."

Pressure and nerves will play their part in the final, no doubt, and Djokovic said: "I feel that I'm more experienced. Winning a grand slam title here a couple years back and having that for the final, it's maybe a little bit of the mental advantage."

Courtesy: Guardian

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