So, I’ve got another one of those silly ideas — how about every now and again I just write 500 words on something? This obviously goes against the general theme of this curiously long posts blog, but what I’m finding more and more is that I start writing something and then, for various reasons, never quite finish. I have more unfinished blog posts from the last few months than at any other point. Most of them are terrible, but a few probably would have been at lat mildly entertaining. Mostly I did not finish because of time, the hectic nature of life these days, but still: I might need to reel in my ambition.
Anyway, no idea if this is something that will stick but anyway — here are 500 words on Novak Djokovic:
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“Some roles were mean. Others were meaner.”
— James Cagney
Novak Djokovic never gets a new part. You can imagine him showing up at every tournament, looking at the draw and saying, “OK, what kind of bad guy do you have me playing this time?” One time, he plays the villain trying to foil Andy Murray on Centre Court as all of Britain prays. The next, he is cast as the grim reaper charged with ending the reign of Rafael Nadal on the red clay of Paris. Then, his recurring role, he plays a lonely man who keeps denying a perpetually rejuvenated Roger Federer from winning his eighth Wimbledon. The script changes slightly. The movie never does.
It didn’t have to be this way. Novak Djokovic has been the best player in the world for years now. He has a hero’s story, rising from the ruins of war-torn Serbia and rising again from the erratic nature of his youth; there has never been a more unlikely tennis virtuoso. He is, by all accounts, a likable soul, modest and funny and emotional. He could play the leading man. He just can’t get the part.
Instead, he continuously plays the disruptor, the killjoy, the anticlimax. Sunday in London, Djokovic once again found himself more or less alone facing the unbearable lightness of Roger Federer and the crowd that adored him. Federer was there for just one more day in the sun. Djokovic was there to terminate dreams.
The two men played two consummate and intoxicating sets. Federer’s serve clashed with Djokovic’s reflexes. Djokovic’s relentless force accentuated Federer’s feathery movement. They drove each other higher and higher until each point felt overwhelming — Federer would win a gut-wrenching point and you would think, “Djokovic can never recover from that,” and then Djokovic would win some crazy corner-to-corner rally and you would think, “Well, that finishes Roger,” and on it went. Djokovic bludgeoned Federer in a first-set tiebreaker. Federer beat Djokovic in the second-set tiebreaker after fighting off six set points. It was wonderful and exhausting and so good that you didn’t want it to end.
And then, like that, it was over. Federer’s level fell off a touch, Djokovic’s level jumped to the sun, and Djokovic was eating grass as Wimbledon champion again. Djokovic, like always, had given his heart out there. The response from the crowd was of respectful disappointment, a feeling Djokovic has grown used to over the years.
To me, though, the most telling response to the match was that of Federer, who has had his share of painful losses through the years. This was not one of them. He knew that he had played well. But Djokovic’s brilliant return of serve, his ability to chase down every ball and his almost flawless play from the baseline reigned. “Some matches tend to be easier to digest,” Federer said. In the end, crowd took the loss hard, but Federer did not. He understood. When Novak Djokovic plays like that, he’s unbeatable.