Tag Archives: U.S. Open

Djoković at his worst…

6 Sep

368d4e2a-509b-40a6-af0b-56c9241a6773-460x364Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Moody, distracted, irritable, unable to come back from even the tiniest initial set-back, seemingly pissed off that it’s hot — like it’s a personal conspiracy against him — pissed off that #11 seed can be winning against him; till he decides he’s just too exhausted to even try and throws it in like a little child who doesn’t want to play anymore.

I don’t know why so much tennis is played in the most vicious heat imaginable either — July in London, New York in September, Melbourne in January — but deal with it.  It’s not like the gods have set up an invisible parasol for your opponent.  And, he’s not that much younger than you.

Then you got the announcers: “Having to be away from pregnant wife Jelena must be taking its toll on Novak too…”  Spare me the heterosentimentality, please.  (Or maybe they’re right: cherchez la femme…she’ll drain you dry every time…)  I adore this dude, but when he just gives up, he just gives up and it’s a real let-down for fans.  You’re getting too old for this sh*t Nole; the pissy defeatism is unacceptable; it’s not cute anymore.

Now I’m in a position where I have to root for a Croat…

The Guardian — like I’ve said before, best coverage of anyone — hasn’t posted yet, but see their Twitter in the meantime.

Woops… here they go.

P.S. Decent, polite and humble at press conference after, though…

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“But there has rarely been a tennis champion more adept at absorbing pace and thwarting ambition than Novak Djokovic, particularly on a hard court.” — The New York Times

4 Sep


b9352043f44b231b599dd6c06205d806_crop_northAP Images (click)

Didn’t find the match nearly as exciting as the Times seems to have.  Both players seemed angry and irritable at having to start so late — the result of a four hour plus match where an impressive, and previously unknown to me, Kei Nishikori beat Stanislas Wawrinka — and by half way it had just become a game of physical and nervous attrition.  Happy result though. 

My call is Djoković and Federer again in final —  see if Nole can reproduce Wimbledon win.

Whole Times article: Novak Djokovic Defeats Andy Murray to Reach U.S. Open Semifinals

While The Bleacher Report both gushes and points out his weaknesses:

“He’s got a serve that’s efficient, if not blinding. He’s got incredible agility and tremendous speed. He runs down shots that seem irretrievable, shots that have the fans gasping—and then roaring.

If there is a weakness in his game, it may be a failure to put away an opponent. He had Murray beaten in the second set—or was Murray beating himself? After losing that set, Djokovic returned to display the skills he possesses.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Becker says Nole is ready to beat Murray tonight

3 Sep

Novak Djokovic talks with his coach, Boris Becker, in New York in the build-up to the US OpenNovak Djokovic talks with his coach, Boris Becker, in New York in the build-up to the US Open at Flushing Meadows. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

See Gurdian’s — almost always the best tennis coverage of any major media outfit — story at: “Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic’s coach, plots Andy Murray’s US Open downfall”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


Belgrade: Wimbledon 2014, rakia with M., and what’s with me and all the Djoković…

12 Jul

TENNIS-GBR-WIMBLEDONGetty Images (click)

“What’s with you and all the Djoković?”

This is M. in Belgrade, after the sixth or seventh rakia, giving me a hard time about my Nole cult. M. is an old Serbian student of mine from New York. He’s one of my favorites actually; out of the nearly ten years I taught English at CUNY, he’s one of those special ones that I can count on one hand. Funny, charismatic, super-smart – when he came to class – he was a real asset to have.

“I was your best student,” he says, a propos of nothing and with characteristic modesty.

“Yeah, when you came to class,” I say.

We live ten minutes from each other in New York but never see each other – bumped into each other at some bars a couple of times – except that every year at Orthodox Easter he comes to my house. But I haven’t been home for Easter for the past three years, so we didn’t see each other then either. Except for one night, two nights ago, the stars arranged for us to both be in Belgrade together and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get some long-due drinking done.

So this is M. getting all up in my face Serbian style:

“If you’re such a fan, why are you here? Why aren’t you in Montenegro at his wedding trying to get a picture?”

I didn’t even know Djoković was getting married this weekend and M. knows I’m too old and probably knows enough else about me to know I’m not some idiot groupie:

“Like the other groupies…” he says nevertheless. “You could try to take a picture of him with the bride…one with the bride alone…one with…”

The thing is his teasing is so good humored it makes you wanna jump right into the ring with him and take him on, so it’s always fun and it only makes you like him more. I also came away from the evening feeling good because M. and I barely know each other actually, but a bunch of his friends showed up and it was obvious how loved he was by all of them and that was nice to see; I like when my instincts about a person are correct even when I don’t have much evidence to go by.  But he’s relentless…

“You could try to get a picture of the dog…”

Well for M. or anybody, if you still don’t know what my Djoković thing is about and how it relates to my Serb thing and how possessive and defensive I get about both, you haven’t been reading my blog very regularly. So let me try again. Back to Wimbledon…

I don’t think any real tennis aficionado could’ve asked for a better Wimbledon 2014 – unless you have the frankly hilarious misfortune of being a Nadal fan, in which case you deserve your fate and I’ll tell you when it’s ok to come out of your room and stop being embarrassed. For Djoković it was no easy climb. Great tennis all the way, but he wasn’t granted anything. With Čilić, with Raonić, with Dimitrov, there was practically not a single give-away. He had to wrestle every point from the hands of the universe.

Of course the finals match between him and Federer was a friggin’ dream. It was everything you want from good tennis, from good sport, competition, art, or a good war even: matched skill and guts, intelligent tactics, constant reversal and coming back from behind – and the masochistic pleasure or knowing that even if your guy loses, he’ll have lost to someone you respect. This was one of those matches that the phrase “toe-to-toe” was invented for. At no single point during the more than three hours did either man have enough of a numerical lead to allow his supporters to relax for a few minutes. Neither of them was ever more than just one step ahead of the other and that never lasted long enough for you to take even half a breath.

I watched the game in an empty Greek bar with a friend of mine and don’t think I actually sat back on my seat for a second. And I don’t know whether it was the emptiness of a bar in suburban Athens, perhaps, on a hot July, Sunday afternoon — the hours of high summer heat in Attica still turn the city into a desert — but this was the first time that Djoković’ loneliness on the court struck me so hard. Existentially.  How completely lonely he sometimes seems.  Of course, that day, Wimbledon had to do with it as well. For a variety of reasons we all know, Novak’s always been considered the kind of odd man out in the tennis world despite his stupendous capabilities as an athlete, and Wimbledon is clearly the most classist of all tennis venues where that would show up in its starkest form. I don’t know if it was the shots that the Greek network we were watching was being fed, but not once during the whole match, were the cameras able to get even a single shot of the crowd looking satisfied or anything but stressed whenever an exchange went well for Nole; except occasionally from Becker and his team; no one from his family even seemed to be there — getting ready for the wedding circus I can now presume, but didn’t know at the time. Unlike the always cool French, who’ll applaud you for your art no matter who you are or where you’re from, like the standing ovation they gave Djok for his battle against the Catalan that left him in tears at Roland Garros, here there was the unmistakable look of British and other jet-set spectators at a sporting event in the grip of pure class terror: that their suave Swiss aristocrat would lose to this Balkan nut-job…and at Wimbledon.

I remembered that shitty little article by Lauren Collins that The New Yorker had run last September — The Third Man — about Novak, which kept essentially asking whether he can learn how to act like a proper tennis player: “Can he make us like him?” Like you guys are the arbiters of what exactly and he needs your liking?  And all my pro-Serb and pro-Nole nerves got twisted into knots again, like when I had first read it. The whole article was just dripping with condescension and I thought to myself that if Collins had written an article like that about an athlete from a “country of color,” The New Yorker would have been faced with a howling riot of censoring anger and cries of racism. “Is Nole too ghetto for Wimbledon?” Collins had essentially wanted to know. She could’ve consulted me and I would’ve come up with at least twenty terms from half a dozen Balkan languages for “ghetto” that she could have used.

Then the fifth set started and it became clear that both men knew this was it, life or death, especially because it started to become clear that physical and – from the tightness of the game and competition – nervous exhaustion had started to set in. And Nole got that look he gets late in matches, where he alternates between a look of steely professionalism and hunger that’s ready to rip his opponent to shreds, and this strange watery-eyed look of almost spiritual exaltation, looking dreamily skyward, or gazing down at the ground blankly. And this latter look, though beautiful, is a little worrisome because it means he’s either going to start playing like a man possessed by some god and steamroll whoever he’s up against into the ground – or just start f*cking up and making a royal mess of everything.

It became clear that he was in a state of deity-possession almost as soon as the set started. And then he stopped looking lonely to me. Instead we was simply magnificently alone, the akritas fighting it out on the marble threshing-floor, the young kraljević single-handedly taking on the hostile hordes of pink frangoi in their sun-screen and appropriate hats.

NOLEUSE1404667649000-AFP-531415517Glyn Kirk, AFP/Getty Images (click)

And Federer hit the ball into the net and it was all over. And Nole cracked open; not up, open — like the cracks that Leonard Cohen says let the light get in, except the light here was not flooding in but out of him in this great luminous glow. I don’t know what mad idea of redemption or humility or gratitude was going through his crazed Slavic mind when he knelt and started eating the grass off the court, but in the back of my mind I could hear some Serbian Sonya Marmeladova crying:

“This is what you shall do! Go at once, this very moment to the crossroads and kiss the earth which you have defiled and bow down to the world and say: ‘I am grateful. I am humble. I am grateful. I am humble.’”

And then the tears of that gratitude and humility started flowing and I haven’t even wanted to watch any of the post-game interviews or read anything; I just want to be left with that image of him holding the cup and bawling. Weeping copiously.  Like a man.

wimbledon-men-novak-djokovic-wimbledon-trophy_3169070Getty images (click)

My sense here in Serbia is that there’s a little bit of a conflict between Djoković’ status as saintly national hero and the celebrity circus that’s constantly flowing around him, and that that’s what M.’s cynicism was about with the wedding and all. But a girl, I., who was in M.’s kompaniya that night: very smart and pretty, who speaks absolutely native-speaker American English and who is always running what’s apparently one of Serbia’s fastest-growing websites from from her IPad – which she was doing that night – while still managing to remain front and center of any conversation she happens to find herself in, says that’s the girlfriend and the media’s fault, not his, and that it really irks her.

“What does ‘irk’ mean, M.?” I decide to play professor with him, addressing him by his last name.

“It means like when something bother-… What do you mean what does it mean?!  I know what it means.  I was your best student!”

“Yeah. When you came to class.”

I. also talked some about some genuine darkness that was part of Nole’s childhood, the details of which are common knowledge here, but I’m not going to get into because it’s part of this blog’s journalistic policy not to go there with cheaply personal and especially hurtful personal issues, and especially not with someone I love and admire and who’s as much of a hero of mine as Djoković is. But let’s just say the redeeming, protecting hero archetype is a structurally core part of his psyche.

“He’s a beautiful man and he has a beautiful soul,” I. declared, definitively ending that conversation, as I imagine she must definitively end others when she wants to.

And I felt vindicated.

Do you have your answer now, M.?

Out of respect for this spectacular victory and the Djoković-and-tennis tolerance of my readers I promise there will be no Djoković or tennis at all until the U.S. Open.

But see you before then.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Note:  Speaking of “marble threshing-floors…”  The court at Wimbledon is in such shit state that it can only be called a grass court in the most ideally Platonic terms.  Really; cute British shabbiness has its limits.  Beer and probably piss-stained pub carpeting is one thing.  A court where most of the playing is done on parched, packed, rock-hard dirt, made that much more treacherous by the fine layer of sand it kicks up and coats itself with, is another.  It definitely put a cramp on both players’ styles at several moments during the match and there were times where it even looked like it could cause dangerous injury.  With Nole I didn’t know whether his super-human flexibility would protect him or if it would make his propensity for taking acrobatic risks that much more risky.  Either way, do something.  It’s one of those things that’s not charming about England anymore.


10 Sep

This is what he does.  “Oh, it’s a nice day today.  I think I’ll play.”  And then takes a brute like Ferrer in a good match, but hardly an epic battle: 2-6 (yesterday’s set), 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 — and goes to the final tomorrow against Murray.

I gotta say one thing about my man Nole though, as petulant as he can be.  He’s the most gracious winner-or-loser, no matter what.  There’s always a sincere smile, an acknowledgement full of respect, and a warmth to his response to any match — the mark of a true athelete.  What he said about Ferrer today, before or after with the commentators, was such a (rightful) praise of Ferrer as a player that it left a lump in my throat.

Tomorrow is Murray, man.  I’ve made a solemn tama that I’ll have to fulfill if Djok wins.  Let’s see.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Nole, man…

8 Sep

I commented yesterday about Janko Tipsarevic (SRB), in his beautiful, beautiful match against David Ferrer (ESP) that: “Janko may actually have a steadier, more perseverant grit than Nole — with his unpredictable, emotional ups and downs — does.”

Janko (click)

And sure enough, there Djokovic was today, against a monster like David “The Wall” Ferrer — Ferrer, one of the fittest, strongest players in the game, banging away in a never-say-die style that first blew me away just the other day, and Novak in one of his his pissy-little-prince moods because of the weather, visibly daydreaming on the court, letting himself get creamed. 

Ferrer (click)

And the Prestolonaslednik

Luckily for him, the game was suspended in mid-first set due to weather (5-2 Ferrer and not looking like it was gonna get any better).  The U.S. Open is the only Slam event that stupidly doesn’t have any indoor courts or provisions for shelter and the match will be resumed tomorrow morning; Final moved to Monday.

This is the Semi-Final of the U.S. Open, Mr. Djokovic, a Grand Slam event, of which you haven’t won any since Australia, in case you don’t remember.  You’re up against FERRER again tomorrow and, if you’re lucky, Murray on Monday.  Get it the fuck together.  No champagne tonight.  And for the tenth time, get out of Monaco!  It’s BAD for you.


And Nole’s parents, Dijana and Srdjan Djokovic:

Good genes.  But nobody ever doubted the quality of that gene pool.  Here, for instance, is Tipsarevic (click), when not locked in the mortal agony of a death match:


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Tipsarevic vs. Ferrer (and an apology from me)

7 Sep

Yesterday’s Tipsarevic-Ferrer match was, I think, some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen.  Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) played like a man possessed — like, 1915 Retreat, Kajmakcalan possessed — the best of Serbian inat, a desperate (in the most soldierly sense), heroic attempt to beat a higher-ranking and very dangerous player.  He was like a manic Djokovic, if that’s possible, without losing his focus, taking all of Nole’s extreme acrobatic risks and flying across the court like lightning — even fighting on after a brutal fall.  Janko may actually have a steadier, more perseverant grit than Nole — with his unpredictable, emotional ups and downs — does.  He’s one of my new heroes.

Janko Tipsarevic

Especially moving was the repeated cry: “Haydi Janko-o-o-o-o!!!” from people in the stands.

David Ferrer (ESP — below), a man who’s career I now regret I haven’t followed very carefully, is just a total stud, monster of a player; big, strong, and fast, keeps coming back and back again with seemingly no loss of concentration or power — an absolute and nimble bulldozer.

They played for four-and-a-half hours and went into a fifth set tie-break.  Both of their feet were bleeding and had to be bandaged.  Janko played on injured after his fall.  It was epic.  Janko didn’t make it into the semi-finals — it would’ve been his first time — and it would’ve pitted him against Djokovic!  But nobody really loses a battle like this, and the crowd and the victorious Ferrer readily acknowledged the heart Janko put out.

Here’s the Times:  “A Lack of Name Power, but Tipsarevic and Ferrer Have Staying Power.”

Janko Tipsarevic, left, fell to David Ferrer in a match that lasted 4 hours 31 minutes. “It was a really emotional match,’’ Ferrer said.  (Ben Solomon for The New York Times).

Meanwhile, Nole beat Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) handily in straight sets and made up for London.  All sorts of commentary about what a challenging match it was: Djokovic “standing in a pool of his own sweat,” etc.; I didn’t even see him break a sweat.

I don’t get this del Potro guy.  He’s big (6’6″), but it seems like instead of his size giving him strength or span advantage, it just seems to slow him down.  He seems almost amateurishly clumsy sometimes — mas burro que potro — and always looks like he’s about to have a panic attack or start crying.  But he’s made it up to fourth rank in his day and won the Open in 2009, so I guess the guy can play.

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)

Meanwhile, Nole, smelling blood, engaged in none of his antics and only mild versions of his rebel-yell victory howl; instead he just had that calm, concentrated look he gets when he knows where things are going.

But tomorrow he’s up against Ferrer in the semis, which might be a tiny bit more nerve-wracking.

1915 Retreat?  Kajmakcalan?  Yes.  I’m a total and unapologetic believer in The Serbian Myth.  All of it.  But I will have to explain myself further some day soon, because I’ve always taken a lot of flack for it.  For now, let’s just say that I believe it in such a profound, deep-in-the-heart way, that the destructive, homicidal uses it’s been put to disgust me all the more.  Ok?

That wasn’t the apology.  The apology I owe readers here is that for several days I’ve given you nothing but tennis.  I’m sorry.  I’m busy and pre-occupied with lots of things and all the rest of my energy is absorbed by the Open.  It’ll be over soon.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Such a beautiful sense of his own body…”

5 Sep

…says former tennis champ and commentator Jim Courier today, in an unusually aesthete-minded observation of Nole’s physicality during his match with Swiss Stanislas Wawarinka, as he continues to breeze through the U.S. Open and advances to the quarterfinals.  I’m now ashamed I ever doubted him.

Roger got closed out of quarterfinals by Berdych, which kinda sucks because I wanted the world to see Nole beat Federer.  So no clue who it’ll be in the end.

The Los Angeles Times‘ Adam Weinberger has four reasons why Djokovic will successfully defend his Open title: “4 Reasons Why Djokovic Will Repeat as Champ,” though the condensing of the Open’s schedule into daily matches with no days off in between, due to the rain delays of typical New York summer swamp weather, has me a little worried about the physical toll it’ll take on the athletes.  Nole goes up against Juan Martin del Potro tomorrow and hopefully will get some satisyfing compensation for the humiliating loss of the Bronze to del Potro in London.  All in all looks good.

Meanwhile, fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic, who I never knew was was as highly ranked as no. 8 seed, isn’t doing so badly himself, also advancing today to the quarterfinals.  Though he goes up against Ferrer tomorrow, which is kind of scary.

Janko Tipsarevic

And an undated photo of the two paesani, below, that I love:

On another Balkan tennis front, Andy Murray turns around initial losses (“Andy Murray Asserts Himself After Poor Start“) and defeats Croat Marin Cilic (below).  Oh, well.  Them’s the breaks…

And then there was a hard-core, great match between Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli,  from which the Russian powerhouse emerged victorious, but not without being given a serious run for her money.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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