Novak Djokovic’s facile win in the Australian Open tennis tournament brought him level with Rafa Nadal for the number of titles at the majors or slams as they are called now. Just like in cricket, nobody envisaged any batter getting to 100 international centuries or any bowler capturing 800 wickets in the five-day Test match format, not many in the tennis world would have ever foreseen two players Djokovic and Nadal winning 22 titles and with another, Roger Federer finishing with 20 major trophies. In a sport where newer, younger players emerge every few months, for this ageless trio to stay at the top and defy the newer generation is nothing short of phenomenal.
Djokovic played throughout the Australian Open with his thigh strapped for a niggle that he had picked up a few days before the tournament. It didn’t seem to hamper his movement and so when those who lost to him in the earlier rounds were asked about it at a media conference they replied that it didn’t seem to affect his movement or his speed. That was all the media needed to start talking about his injury as a fake one. For some reason, Djokovic is not as well liked as the other two legends, Federer and Nadal, and the media rips him apart at the slightest opportunity. Even if the strapping was to lull the opponent into a sense of complacency, they should have realised it as soon as the match started that he was moving well and so adjusted their thinking and strategy. That they didn’t or rather weren’t allowed to, tells you of the gulf between Djokovic and the newbies. If it was gamesmanship on the part of Djokovic to use the injury for a medical timeout at a crucial stage of the match, it is within the rules. In any case, only the individual understands the soreness and pain of an injury that he/she is suffering from. The champions use any handicap as a motivation to raise the level of their game and that’s what Djokovic did especially from the last-16 round where he simply decimated his opponents in straight sets. Just imagine, if he had not been banned for not being vaccinated and had been allowed to play in the Australian and U.S. Opens last year, he could have had 24 titles to his name. The sacrifices he has made to get to this level where he has changed his diet, becoming a vegan is testimony to his desire and ambition to be remembered as an all-time great, if not the greatest player in the history of the game.
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The story goes that a couple of years back, after winning the All England title, when his support staff asked him to celebrate with a bar of chocolate, he had a mini bite and returned it saying he is careful what he puts in his body. That could well be the reason he has been averse to being vaccinated as he does not want any virus to enter his body.
Whatever the reason, it’s about time the tennis world sits up and accepts that he is among the top four greats who have ever played the game, if not the actual number one. I have been at the French Open and U.S. Open finals where he lost to Stan Wawrinka both times. During the losses, he was seen losing his cool, raving and ranting at his support staff and losing focus on the game. Against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open finals he seemed to be going the same way, screaming and mocking his corner as his Greek opponent played some top shots. But he quickly recovered his poise, putting his hands over his ears during the changeover and from then on he was unstoppable even though Tsitsipas played some great shots.
The Australian Open also saw the final appearance in a major by our own Sania Mirza. Very few get the opportunity of finishing their careers with a win. While India was disappointed that she and Rohan Bopanna couldn’t land their hands on the trophy every sports lover was proud of the way both gave their best right till the end. In cricket, Sir Don Bradman needing just four runs to finish his career with an average of 100, was clean bowled for a zero. So a glorious finale is not in the naseeb of every sportsperson. Still getting to the finals of a major is a tremendous achievement and India will always be proud of her career and what she has done for women’s tennis in particular.
Happy retirement Sania and may the sun always shine on you and your family.