THE NIGHT I PLAYED NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Aug 13, 2011, 11:39:54 AM | by
It has been an incredible year for Novak Djokovic and he deserves to be the World No.1. Here we are in the eighth month of the year and he has lost only one match, the semis of the French Open to Roger Federer. His...
It has been an incredible year for Novak Djokovic and he deserves to be the World No.1. Here we are in the eighth month of the year and he has lost only one match, the semis of the French Open to Roger Federer. His run has been quite remarkable and it’s been well documented as to the various reasons for the turnaround in his fortunes. So I thought why not challenge him to a match and get a first-hand look at how well he is playing. Years and years ago I had done it with Ivan Lendl in Sydney. It would be fun to see what it is like for players such as Federer and Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray and company when they take him on. No player is unbeatable but the way Novak has been striking the ball you got to wonder. It was all set up and I drifted off in thought on how my strategy would unfold. The next I knew I was in Montreal where he was playing his first event since officially taking over as No.1 following his Wimbledon victory over Nadal. Djokovic turned up to the court dressed not in his practice gear but what he’d wear for a match. That’s showing a nice bit of respect I thought. We exchanged a few casual words and I congratulated him for Wimby. I hadn’t seen him on a one-to-one basis since then and with that sort of shy smile and nod that he has he thanked me for the kind words. I’d been hitting the ball well and while I wasn’t expecting to win, I did feel that I would put up a good show against Djokovic. I was determined not to play so miserably that I’d suddenly become one of his impersonation jokes like he does when he copies players like Maria Sharapova. He won the toss and served. Fault, then a double fault. Soon it was 30-15, then 30-40. Break point to me in the first game. He served to my forehand and I went down the line. He picked up the return and went cross court but I was at the net and cut it off. I’d broken. Frustrated, he threw his head back as he walked to change ends. However Novak broke back to love and soon went up 4-1. His double handed backhands were finding the mark. His coach Marian Vajda was constantly calling instructions which were starting to get irritating but I tried to turn a deaf ear. Why don’t you get a guy’s name I thought? We were on one of the far practice courts but a crowd has started to gather. I heard some asking who Djokovic was playing. No one knew but then I heard someone say: “I think he’s an Aussie, I just noticed he has some of that black stuff they eat down under, that Vegemite stuff showing through from his racquet bag.” I salvaged another game but that was the last one I got in the set. In the second he opened things again and in no time it was 3-0 to him. I finally got on the board, 1-3. He then played a shocker of a game and lost his serve. He brushed his fingers through his hair in disgust and stood there with his hands on his hips and his head tilted, staring for a minute and then muttered something in Serbian. Something about didn’t play such a bad game against Nadal even at Wimbledon. Nadal and Federer have been his pigeons this year. Novak was irritated with himself and suddenly that spelt danger for me. 12 points later the match was over. He didn’t drop another point 6-2, 6-2. At least it was one game more than Gael Monfils got. The crowd that had gathered started applauding. I put out my hand to shake hands and quell the noise that was ringing in my ear. I soon realised the alarm had gone off and it was 7am.