Call it the reverse Midas touch. The wayward ball off Novak Djokovic’s racquet managed to find a person’s trachea in an empty stadium. It’s been that sort of a year for the Serb who organised the Adria Tour in the Balkans in June, was filmed clubbing with fellow players and caught COVID-19. He then turned activist and formed a breakaway players’ council. This after perceived insensitivity towards the economic woes facing lesser-ranked players, bargaining over the size of his entourage and arguing that every player at the US Open had the option to book a house in Long Island. Only Novak Djokovic has defeated Novak Djokovic this year.
Nick Kyrgios calls it a “sick obsession with wanting to be liked” — Djokovic’s rituals of giving out chocolates to reporters and salutations to fans. But at this moment, it’s hard to like, or even sympathise with, Djokovic. He “clarifies” his stance on vaccines by saying that he doesn’t want someone “forcing me to put something in my body.” He maintains, given a chance, he would organise the Adria Tour again.
Unlike Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, one can’t capture Djokovic’s prowess in lazy adjectives. You’d have to recite return percentages and rally lengths. Djokovic is a statistician’s GOAT. His strong convictions can occasionally be flawed, but that’s what makes him different from, say, a Federer who grew up as a multi-sport prodigy. Djokovic spent his childhood hiding in shelter buildings and queuing up for milk and bread in war-torn Serbia. The shared trait among the demi-gods is that they’re all human. Federer, when he crumbles to the ground in triumph. Nadal in the split-second grimaces that betray his intensity. Djokovic is human in how he unravelled in the absence of his nemeses.