Novak Djokovic is Serbian of birth and vocation. Patriotism is not a look. For Novak, being Serbian is also a way to make History.
It is necessary to hit many balls to make a dream come true. So when the big day finally arrives, there are those who cry, those who jump, those who embrace the ground, and then those who eat it. On July 4, 2011, Novak Djokovic didn't imitate anyone, barely smiled, signed, squatted on the Central Court and then grabbed some blades of the Wimbledon grass, took them to his mouth and swallowed them. In beating Rafael Nadal in the final, Novak made two childhood dreams come true at the same time: "When I was training, I dreamed of winning Wimbledon so I had a small plastic cup and when I was coming back home in the evening, I picked it up and said in English 'Hello my name is Novak Djokovic and I won Wimbledon.' "A realized childhood dream cannot be swallowed that easily: "Right after the match, this is the picture that came back to me (...) In just two days, I realized my childhood dreams: to win Wimbledon and to become world number one." And over a few months the nervy young kid calmed down and won ten titles in eleven finals (including three Grand Slam) and claimed the record of 42 consecutive victories dating back to McEnroe in 1984 (41 in 2011 but 43 if you count two victories in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas). Novak became Djoko. Serbia found its hero.
The dream of others
But to fulfil a dream is an epic task: "In my case, I can truly say that nothing is impossible. When I was seven, Serbia was in a very critical situation. When I said that one day I will be world number one, people were laughing. There was a 1% chance that I could ever do it. And I did." The fate of this kid who was training every day despite the bombing of Belgrade in 1999 is very similar to that of his country. When the last bomb exploded in Serbia, nothing existed in the country anymore. It was unlikely that little Novak would ever become Djoko. Huddled in their cellars, the Serbs were waiting for the day when they could once again be proud of their flag. “We are people who have suffered a lot and who have to do more than others to succeed,” said Nole in 2012. “Because of our history, we must do more than others to be seen.” But, by dint of carrying the dream of others on his shoulders, after seeing the little Novak win junior tournaments, working hard and becoming the youngest almost everywhere (first in the top 100 then the top 20 and finally the top 10), fate became more complicated. The little boy got stuck. It's not so easy to be a Hero.
So close and so far
For three years, the genius stagnated. He was close to his goal and a few forehands away of ending all this disappointment and finally making his dream a reality. But Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal kept eliminating him in semi-finals. “There were times, “said Nolé, “when making it through to the later rounds of a tournament and playing them was almost frustrating.” The world wasn’t interested in this 22 year-old. The world only cared about the Swiss gentleman and the Mediterranean bull. When it wasn’t Roger who was dashing his dreams, it was Rafa (Rome, Madrid, Cincinnati in 2009). "I think I was born at the wrong time" he said regretfully. Djokovic was at best a hope, at worst a loser. François Ducasse is a mental coach: "For an athlete, the last step is the most difficult to overcome because if a part of you wants to reach the goal, there is always another part that does not. It's called the unconscious." To achieve a goal, it is necessary to authorize yourself and to feel legitimate: "At the bottom of someone, there is always this question: Am I good enough to play for this position?" For Djoko, he needed a great blow of fate to change History. The one with a capital H.
“I’ve lost the fear”
There’s nothing like a good fright to get the mind back in the right place. The fear of winning - when the arm becomes feverish, when the ball ends up at the bottom of the net at the end of the match… It’s the time when "the player thinks of the issue, instead of his game or even himself" continues Ducasse. To be afraid of winning, it means to be afraid of the consequences of an Olympic medal, of a Grand Slam title, of a Homeric victory. After winning Wimbledon and his incredible run in 2011, Djoko explained how he became a monster, "I lost the fear (...) after the victory in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in 2010, I was filled with life, energy, and desire to come back on the court, to play more, to win more tournaments. I was no longer afraid." What happened in Belgrade for a young, talented, but a little crazy guy to become a superhero capable of carrying the destiny of a nation on his back and of winning five Grand Slam titles and a Masters without shaking?
Belgrade, in the fourth game of the final against France… Djoko is leading 2 sets to love and serving at 3-3, with a break point against him. Pouncing on a short cross-court forehand, Monfils pulled out a high-powered drive. Nole was frozen. Mad, he smashed his racquet three times on Belgrade's concrete. In a normal brain, this could have changed the course of the final. In Djokovic's brain, the opposite happened. Nole didn't lose his concentration. This game would be the last one won by the Frenchman in a final. Novak extinguished his hopes, 6-4. Something happened. Novak won his two singles matches and gave the most important trophy in tennis to the nation of his father, on its own soil. Nothing in his life will ever live up to this feat. The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is the fate of a nation, not a career goal. The psychiatrist said: "In the final, we see that it is his patriotism that made invincible because he has the shoulders and the ego to stand it. It's not the case of all players. Some would collapse in such cases. Llodra, on his part, in the decisive fifth game, was completely overwhelmed by the challenge." This final was a turning point because no other defeat would have been worse than this one. The trophy won and the dreams of others finally fulfilled, Djoko was no longer afraid. He can now win quietly and enjoy the grass.
By Thibaud Leplat