From the New York Times: “And Novak all fired up now goes, ‘Serbia! Serbia!’ ”

27 May
DjokParisCITY-CLAREY-superJumboDjokovic defeated Joao Sousa in straight sets Monday, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Credit Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters (click)


Djokovic’s Greatest Motivation Isn’t on Court By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY    MAY 26, 2014

PARIS — Novak Djokovic was safe and dry after his first-round victory at the French Open on Monday, and it was noted that he often seems to play his best when he is playing for a cause higher than tennis.

“You’re right; you’re right,” he said. “It’s an interesting observation. I did also feel this at times when I had the last couple of years certain kinds of situations in life, good and bad, that were a lesson in a way for me. I noticed that I found that extra motivation to perform well on the court and to go far.”

But can he go all the way here over the next two weeks and join an exclusive seven-member men’s club by winning the only Grand Slam singles title he is missing?
Playing for Serbia has been a powerful motor for Djokovic. An emotional run to the 2010 Davis Cup title, Serbia’s first, helped him make the leap from serial Grand Slam contender to serial Grand Slam winner in 2011.
Wojtek Fibak, the former Polish star who advised Djokovic at last year’s United States Open, said he used that for fuel again when Djokovic was upset after his semifinal with Stan Wawrinka was scheduled first during the day after he had played primarily night matches.

Fibak said Djokovic had “the worst warm-up” and was in “a horrible mood” so he tried his best to get him back to the essential. “I said, ‘Remember your parents, remember your father had to sell his car for you to play tennis,’ ” Fibak said. “I kept bringing it up, and Novak’s eyes were big, and I said: ‘Do you know why they did it? So you could play the U.S. Open, and now you are in the semis of the U.S. Open and you don’t want to fight and you’re not happy just because of the time? I said do it for your father, your mother, for Serbia.’ And Novak all fired up now goes, ‘Serbia! Serbia!’ ”

He went on to beat Wawrinka in five sets before losing to Nadal in the final.

Now, as he returns to the tournament he wants to win more than any other, Serbia is again at the forefront of his thoughts. He has been seriously involved in raising money and awareness for relief efforts after this month’s floods in southeastern Europe, primarily in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, that killed dozens and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Djokovic has donated his prize money — listed at 549,000 euros, or $750,000 — from winning the Masters 1000 event in Rome.

“I’ve seen the images and followed the news every single day, and it was something I’ve done because I felt like that was the right thing, and that’s it,” Djokovic said. “The second thing I thought about was that it was going to attract more of the donors from the international world to see that the situation is as serious as the prize money I donated. We’re talking about billions of dollars needed.”
Several players from the region took part with Djokovic in an on-court show of solidarity during an exhibition day at Roland Garros before the tournament. It was a small yet deeply symbolic gesture. Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia were all part of Yugoslavia before war broke the country apart in the 1990s. But Djokovic said that if there were any upside to this, it would be that former antagonists were now cooperating.

“To be honest there is something that I did not predict, did not expect,” Djokovic said. “And that is the solidarity of the people of the three countries that were in conflict only 15 years ago. That’s something that was incredibly moving and very encouraging for the relationship for the future of these people, because maybe we cannot be the same country again. Maybe people are thinking that’s not a good idea, but there is definitely a lot more room for improvement of the respect and solidarity between the people.”

When he is serious, Djokovic speaks in long paragraphs. He makes less eye contact than in his earlier days, but what remains remarkable is his ability to shift tone in a hurry. On Monday, marooned on a bench on a changeover during a second-set rain delay at Roland Garros, he invited the ball boy holding his umbrella to join him on the bench for a chat. He then finished off Joao Sousa, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
In a news conference, he doubled over with laughter and put his head on the desk when an Italian journalist asked Djokovic, who eats a gluten-free diet, if adopting the same regimen would help him improve his writing.  Moments later he was discussing the floods again and then, moments after that, answering a query about Boris Becker, the former champion who is coaching Djokovic this year along with his longtime coach Marian Vajda.

Becker won every Grand Slam tournament except the French Open and never won a professional clay-court title, which makes him an intriguing choice of mentor. What kind of advice might Becker be giving him for the French Open?

“He doesn’t tell me to serve and volley, that’s for sure,” Djokovic cracked. “But you know on a serious note, he is still one of the most successful players to play the game even though he hasn’t won Roland Garros.”  For Djokovic, Becker’s experience in big matches and big events is precious cargo even if he failed to win the Australian Open with him in his camp and has had most of his big victories this year with only Vajda in attendance. But the whole team was together in Rome.

“I feel that we understand each other much better already since Rome,” Djokovic said of Becker.

For now, Djokovic remains, with Becker, one of the best men’s players never to win the French Open, a list that includes John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras. But in light of Djokovic’s excellence on the surface, he may now be the best men’s clay-court player in the Open era never to win it.

Djokovic has won Rome three times and Monte Carlo and Madrid once. At Roland Garros, it took Roger Federer in full flight to stop Djokovic in the semifinals in 2011. It took Nadal in full fight to stop him in a rain-interrupted final in 2012 and then again in last year’s classic five-set semifinal.

Beating Nadal at Roland Garros remains the toughest task in tennis, and Djokovic said that the death of his grandfather inspired him in 2012, just as the death of his childhood coach Jelena Gencic in the midst of last year’s tournament inspired him before he fell just short, losing by 9-7 in the fifth.

“I cannot say that the images and memories of these people were not in my head while I was playing but I tried to channel this energy and information in the positive direction,” he said. “And I knew both of these people who were very supportive of my career would like me to play and win for them, so that’s
something I had in the back of my mind.” There is much more for the back of the mind this year. There are Serbia and
its neighbors. There is his coming marriage to Jelena Ristic and the birth of their first child later this year.

“It’s true; I have plenty of causes right now,” he said with the second round on the horizon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: