Back in 1992, many in the press corps got word that Arthur Ashe was HIV positive. But there was so much respect for the beloved man that the press corps implemented a self-imposed embargo, well until USA Today finally broke the story.
Novak Djokovic, of course, is no Arthur Ashe. Who (so to speak), this side of Billie Jean King, is?
Still, at Wimbledon, when word quietly spread that the world’s No. 1 player was having private issues on the home front, the press corps left the matter alone.
Then, on the eve of the Open, Djokovic was asked what he meant after his shocking Wimbledon loss to Sam Querrey when he said he wasn’t 100%, but he didn’t want to go into it.
When he was asked to explain what was going on, he said, “I apologize, but it’s tough to go back now and talk about that. It was nothing physical. It was not an injury. It was some other things that I was going through privately.”
Novak was then asked if those issues had been resolved. He confided, “Yes, it is…Everything is fine. I am in a position, like everybody else, like all of you. We all have private issues and things that are more challenges than issues, things that we encounter and have to overcome in order to evolve as a human being.
“That was the period for me [at Wimbledon]. It…was resolved and life goes on like everything else.”
Having followed all this back and forth, I debated what to do. For starters, I so respect Nole. He’s not only the No. 1 player in the world, he’s a great guy who loves life, adores people of all kinds and loves to grow. He’s got a great mind. I could, of course, have gone for the jugular and asked him to detail what exactly happened. But that was never an option.
And I could have said nothing. But the evolution of our stars and how they deal with life’s obstacles is one of the fascinating things we love about this individual sport – Andre, Jennifer, Steffi, Serena – so many have had searing issues. Books have been written.
Simply put, I at least wanted to ask one of the great thinkers in our game to reflect on the curve ball that came his way amidst a highly successful season. So last night I said to Novak, “One of the great things about you is how you’ve learned and grown over the years. People love you because you’ve been transparent and open. Can you share about what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown over the past couple months?”
Novak responded that as with “anybody else, life arranges things to happen for you so you can evolve. Whether you recognize those signals and circumstances as an opportunity to grow, that really depends on you [and] how conscious you are.
“I’m really grateful to be able to have that consciousness at the moment. Hopefully I’m on the right path. As everybody else, I’m trying…day in and day out, to…find new ways of motivating myself to play tennis.”
“I have more than enough happiness in my life and blessings to be a father and a husband. Life is wonderful…I cannot complain and whine about the issues that everybody has each day privately and professionally.”
“But that’s a beautiful thing. When you expect the least, that’s when you have things coming at you as life’s lessons. I’m glad that I’m able to accept and to greet them with a consciousness of wanting to evolve and wanting to get the best out of them.
“That’s all I can say. I’m very grateful.”
I then continued, and reminded Novak that he made a beautiful statement on court when he told the crowd that going out on Ashe Stadium is like emerging out of a dark tunnel; at least there’s a beautiful light at the end. “Does that,” I asked, “in some way reflect your spirit these days?”
Novak replied, saying going out on Ashe Stadium “is like you’ve been illuminated on the court with all these lights and all the show and everything that’s going on. The opening ceremony is always a special night, of course. Phil Collins [who performed last night] is one of my favorite singers. I was enjoying that and getting pumped before the match.
“It was wonderful to come back and play a night session that is undoubtedly the most special night session that we have in sport.
To be there and play another time [was great] – I don’t take anything for granted. I know a player in my position earns a right to play these kind of matches in the biggest stadium. But, again, I try to be aware, be present. It was really a beautiful moment.”