Novak Djokovic – So Close to Winning a Grand Slam
The entire world of the great sport of tennis waited patiently to witness history.
In fact, the moment that would certainly come was a sterling attraction to anyone who followed sports of any kind.
It had been 52 years since Aussie Rod Laver won the game’s Grand Slam.
The Grand Slam…. The Australian Open in January, the French Open which starts in late May, Wimbledon, which takes place in late June and early July, and the U.S. Open which starts in late August.
And it was on the second in September, history was in the offing at the Finals of the U.S. Open.
Think of it. Not one of the brilliant men’s tennis performers who graced the courts since 1969 were able to achieve that monumental feat.
Not Roger Federer, not Rafael Nadal, not Pete Sampras, not John McEnroe, not Bjorn Borg, not Andre Agassi, not Jimmy Connors, not Arthur Ashe, not Boris Becker.
Not anyone who comes to mind.
But last week, 34-year old Serbian Novak Djokovic was primed to become the first men’s player to capture all four since Laver, who once was considered the Greatest of All Time, before that honor went to about a dozen others.
The field did not include Federer, who at 40, and is out of competition indefinitely after knee surgery, or Nadal, who is sidelined with a foot injury.
Without two of the other three superstars of tennis in the tournament, it appeared as though Djokovic might sail through unscathed to a ultra-memorable championship.
But two things to keep in mind.
The first, is that Djokovic had no control over who played and who didn’t.
The second, is that you still have to go out there and play and win.
Some people may lose sight of that second point.
So, with millions watching around the world on television, and a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, NY, the drama was about to unfold.
Among the crowd inside the Stadium were countless celebrities, including movie stars, many, if not most, who had never seen a tennis match in person, couldn’t miss the show.
Also on hand was Rod Laver, himself, now 83 years of age, and admitting he was pulling for Djokovic to match his enormous Grand Slam triumph.
The New York tennis crowd, anything but laid-back and subdued when called for, were clearly rooting for the Serbian.
Why not? With an opportunity to witness an historic sports moment, I would be in their shoes as well.
Of course, there are times when New York sports fans cross the line. I thought they did when they cheered double-faults by Djokovic’s opponent.
Ah, we’ve gone this far without mentioning the man Novak had to beat to capture the elusive Slam.
His name is Danill Medvedev, 25, who is from Russia, and was the third seed in the championship to Djokovic’s obvious number one.
He was the last hurdle for Djokovic.
It was a hurdle Djokovic couldn’t surmount.
It had not been walk in the park for Novak entering the Final.
He had lost the first set in his previous four matches, thus, coming from behind to win, each time.
In the Final, Djokovic had his serve broken in the very first game. He lost the first set once again, but this time, it was becoming clear, he had none of the bounce, skill, and mental fortitude to rally and finish with the flourish he had exhibited earlier in the championship.
But in the final analysis, it wasn’t a matter of a champion not playing up to his supreme level, but the sensational, nearly “perfect” performance, as Djokovic himself described it, of Medvedev.
For the record, the scores were, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Medvedev, in winning the first major tournament of his career, was almost apologetic after the match, stating for all to hear, that the man he conquered was the greatest tennis player ever.
Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, once told me something I never forgot.
“It’s not solitaire out there”, he said, when discussing what went wrong with a team in defeat.
The same could be said of the U.S. Open final.
But all eyes are on Novak Djokovic in this case, because he was so close to doing something that hadn’t been done in 52 years.
Fatigue and pressure were the two factors cited by John McEnroe in assessing the dramatic finale.
Fatigue from having had to work so hard in getting into position in the first place.
But perhaps more than fatigue, was the pressure.
Not the pressure athletes experience in playing their sport.
They face it all the time coming from behind when hey need to, to win, making unexpected shots, if it’s tennis, and digging down deep to be victorious as much as they do.
You and I have no idea what the very best professionals feel when there is so much at stake in what they do, and what it really takes to achieve something that hasn’t been done in over a half-century.
We saw it in the diverse emotions with Novak Djokovic, when he slammed his racquet into oblivion during the match, and when he sobbed into his towel sitting on his chair after it was over.
He is a man of class from top to bottom.
He was exceptionally warm and generous in crediting Medvedev.
He spoke of the love he felt from the crowd and what it meant to him.
The championship match of the U.S. Open was unquestionably dramatic in an unexpected way.
But Novak Djokovic, the man deprived of his historic moment, did not lose one ounce of his championship aura.