Photo: Adriatik Illustration
I’ve adored tennis since I was around seven years old and have had many favourites along the way. Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic notably took up large chunks of my time.
In 2003. Roger Federer stole my tennis heart and kept it safe until 2010. Come the US Open that year, I experienced a strange confusion. Roger Federer faced Novak Djokovic in the SF and after 3 hours and 25 minutes, the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived.
Federer stood with two match points on Novak’s serve in the 5th set, and with it, a chance to make his 7th consecutive US Open final. My mouth dropped. The courage and tennis skill displayed by Novak Djokovic to save those two points (both with second serves, too) meant I wasn’t as devastated at Roger’s loss as I should have been.
How could that bravery and level of skill shown by this young Serb not be admired by any true tennis fan?
I went on to watch the final against Nadal and although Rafa won, I found myself looking out for Djokovic matches from then on. In my head, I was still a Federer fan but I wanted to see more of Novak’s ballsy brand of tennis.
It wasn’t until Roland Garros 2011 when Djokovic and Federer faced off again in the semi-finals that my head realised my tennis heart now belonged to Nole. When Federer wagged his finger in victory at the end of the match, my heart sunk. I was bitterly disappointed.
I’d already watched all of Novak’s matches that year, and found myself awe-struck each and every time he dismantled Rafa Nadal, even on his beloved clay. Make that 6/6 wins for Djokovic over the Spaniard by the end of 2011. The excitement I felt watching Djokovic was like nothing else. How was he able to step up and take down both Nadal and Federer when no other players could? How was he able to do it despite the crowds? I had to pinch myself come the US Open in 2011. Federer and Djokovic faced off again in the semi finals. Again, we enter a 5 set. Again, Federer has two match points but this time, on his own serve.I felt disappointed to know that Novak was going to lose. It was impossible to save two match points against Federer again, right?
WRONG. One killer return and one Federer-forehead-into-the-net later, Novak had saved two more match points.
From that point to this, I’ve been there every step of the way. From the thrilling Australian Open final in 2012 against Rafa to the 15-40 scenario at Wimbledon 2019. All the ups, downs and roundabouts. The mental resilience Novak shows, the never-say-die attitude, the way he deals with the most raucous, biased crowds have given me hours and hours of entertainment. And of course, there’s the tennis! The beautiful, precise, intelligent and brave tennis. Today, despite the turbulence us Novak fans experience as politics assumes a greater role within the sport than the tennis itself, I’ve never regretted a moment.
I watch as Novak sets himself apart from the others by helping tennis players less fortunate than himself. I watch as he stands up as a poster boy for bodily autonomy, a person who believes in the freedom of choice at great harm to himself. I watch as he gives so much time, warmth and energy to his fans. I watch as he places the simple values of love, health and family above all else. I couldn’t be more proud of the person he is off the court and I couldn’t be more proud of myself in knowing that I chose the right person to support both on and off the court.
History will judge him kindly, I am sure. History has a way of separating the great from the good.