Not good…

25 Jan


Nole bombed out in Melbourne against…Wawrinka, so after being bumpd out of No. 1 by that mousey Catalan last year, this season starts off on a not-great footing.

Here’s part of the Times’ description of the match:

“MELBOURNE, Australia — Stanislas Wawrinka’s forehand sailed wide on break point in the fourth set, and Novak Djokovic screamed. Then he screamed again. Then he screamed once more. He screamed as if he won the tournament. He screamed as if he won the lottery. He screamed so loud for so long the chair umpire issued a warning.

The whole scene felt familiar: Djokovic against Wawrinka in a Grand Slam contest, the match more like a marathon, Wawrinka close but Djokovic beginning to pull ahead. It felt that way until the Australian Open quarterfinal ended with Wawrinka in front, the final score, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7. As the final point concluded, his face — eyes wide, mouth agape — registered the most shock of all.

Same movie, different ending. For Djokovic, a horror flick.

Wawrinka won their latest duel more than Djokovic, the defending champion here, lost it. Still, the final two points unfolded as if an understudy had subbed in,

That last line’s bold emphasis is mine, because this seems to be a summation of Djok’s style, and which, paradoxically, may be exactly what makes me so loyal to him.  First, however he’s doing on the court — well or badly — he’s never complacent.  Never a Federer or the New York Yankees, for example, sailing through everything so elegantly that even when they lose you feel like they’ve won.  Nole can be playing at the absolutely top peak of his game, his elastic frame all over the court, creaming his opponent — and it’s still a heart-and-soul struggle for him.  A true agon, a passion in the original sense of the word.  And that’s why I feel like I’m allowed the poetic license to call his sudden plunges into catastrophe those of the tragic hero.  He’s hammering away like a god at one moment, and then suddenly some tragic flaw, some Achilles’ heel — I dunno, Kryptonite maybe — crushes him in an instant.  You can never even tell what it is, like just now in Melbourne.  Some tiny something undermines his confidence, some sensitivity pricked unnerves his soldier’s zen, and he goes to pieces.  And it’s that vulnerability — aside from my Serb-crush, which readers have finally realized is kind of a running joke of the blog and not politically “incorrect” — that makes him so appealing and disturbingly loveable.  He’s certainly consistently enough of a winner to admire — No. 1 seed for how long? — but then he always manages to give us that little bitter-sweet taste of defeat, in which, Borges says, when discussing why throughout the centuries readers of the Iliad, including the Greeks themselves, have always liked the Trojans more than the Greeks: “there is a dignity which can hardly belong to victory.”

The basic premise of the New Yorker’s stupid piece on him by Lauren Collins last September was that Djokovic is just too much of a savage (read ‘Balkan’ or ‘Serb’) for the genteel culture of tennis; “can he make us like him?” Collins actually writes at one point and the whole article seems to be asking the same question all through.  And if I’ve half-jokingly made him represent something archetypically Balkan or Serbian on this blog, it’s been from the opposing position of a true fan and a joking that’s only a front for a deep seriousness.  Because I really do believe there’s something heroic and archaic — even irrational — about this kid’s game.  He’s fighting to the death every time.  Mostly, the gods favor him.  Then, at times, for some caprice known only to them, they abandon him and he falls.

And so his general brilliance is always tinged with the fear of some sudden, impending catastrophe of that kind, that’ll strike him down just as he’s reaching the summit.  And that’s why he’s fascinating.  And that’s why we watch him.

Biti dobro Nole.  And on to victory next.


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