Djokovic on Djokovic

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Bill Simons

Wimbledon

DJOKOVIC REFLECTS ON THE ESSENCE OF TENNIS: While fans know there are three definitive things about Novak Djokovic (he’s good at tennis, he’s a complex guy and he’s controversial), reporters know that at any time he can go off and respond to a question with a deep-dive soliloquy that gets everyone thinking. 

After noting that more than half the players who are left at Wimbledon haven’t won a Slam title, one reporter asked Novak to recall winning his first major and what impact that had had.

The Serb responded with an extraordinary, off-the-cuff reflection on his career in tennis. Novak replied, “It was back in 2008 when I won the Australian Open. That was my first Grand Slam title. Obviously, the first title is always the most special one. It was kind of breaking the ice for me.

“But it took me another three years to win a second one. I struggled those three years to understand, to see what it takes to win, particularly against Nadal and Federer, who were dominating the sport…and winning basically all the Slams.

“But I learned the hard way, through the rivalries with these two guys. That was improving my game and bettering myself on the court mentally…[I was] really maturing and evolving as a person, as a player, and getting stronger as time passed by.

“There were some key moments in my career that served as a great trigger, in a positive way. The Davis Cup title with Serbia in 2010 created huge momentum for me. I felt the wind at my back. I felt I had wings after that – because bringing the first Davis Cup to Serbia ever was something extremely special, in front of our crowd in Belgrade.

“After that, I had one of, if not the best, season of my life. I won 40-plus matches in a row, three Slams out of four. That’s really where I became a different player, I would say. That’s where I started believing that I deserved to be on top, that I can be better than Federer, Nadal.

“There are different challenges, or different levels of achievement in our sport. Obviously the big one is how to win a Slam. Then an even bigger one is how to be No. 1. Then even a bigger one is how to be winning multiple Slams. Then an even bigger one is how to do that for years and be the No. 1 for multiple years.

“Most players don’t achieve that…I’ve been very blessed to be in that position. I’m very proud of all my achievements, but I do know how difficult it is to climb to the top.

“Like Zverev, for example. When you see his results, when you see his game, all he’s done so far in the sport, he definitely deserves a Grand Slam title, right? He was so close against Dominic Thiem in the US Open. He played the Roland Garros final this year, and was in many semis – just edging closer and closer.

“It’s not easy. It’s not easy. The longer it goes without you winning a Slam, the more you think about it. The more this pressure mounts on you, every time you’re in the situation where, ‘Okay, I’m playing for the title again.’ Then you start doubting yourself.

“It’s a huge icebreaker when you manage to win the first one. [But] for players like Dominic, when he won his only Grand Slam, after that he couldn’t maintain that level. Unfortunately, injuries caught up with him. It’s unfortunate to have a [great] player like that not being able to be consistent. He’s a player who could have easily won multiple Slams – on clay court, as well.

“You have unbelievable players who never won a Slam – but they deserved to. It’s just that Grand Slams are whole different animals in comparison to other tournaments.”

NO LUCK FOR TOMMY AT PAULEY PAVILION: The quarterfinal match was on Wimbledon’s Court One, but for a while it seemed that Tommy had turned the court into Pauley Pavilion (that’s on the UCLA campus). The American, who had won Queens, was on a nine-match winning streak and he was hoping to become the first US male to win back-to-back grass titles since Pete Sampras. And the No. 12 seed had a shot. He was 2-2 in his previous matches against Carlos Alcaraz. 

Paul’s cap may be on backwards but he used his smart, wide-ranging and fluid game to win a marathon first set and go up 7-5, 2-0. “He’s got Alcaraz rattled,” said Andrew Castle. Only Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev and Jack Draper had beaten Carlos on grass. Could Tommy do it?  

No. Paul played a loose game early in the second set. Carlos broke and didn’t look back. “Like any true champion, he knows how to turn up the temperature at the right time,” noted Clare Balding. John McEnroe added, “Carlos can do anything and everything…He has more options than anyone else in tennis. Tommy doesn’t know what to do.”

Alcaraz took full control and won 18 of the next 26 games to win 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Now this young, appealing genius, who just prevailed in Paris, is two matches away from winning back-to-back Slams and back-to-back Wimbledons.

THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UNITED STATES AND BRITAIN: We have big cars. They have big umbrellas.

REFLECTIONS ON A BRITISH ART FORM: To the American ear, British weather forecasts are an adventure. In their own way they’re an art form. They go kind of like this, “There will be a few bits and pieces of drizzle that will help the garden, with the chance of drizzle, then a touch of brightness here and there, with chances of sun here and there.”

When it’s raining we are told “it’s spitting.” At other times, we’re informed that it will be “a kind of blowy afternoon. Showers are gathering. They will be hovering, as the low pressure is loitering.” Still, our favorite phrase is when, during intense rainstorms, we hear, “It’s bucketing down.”

DANIIL DELIVERS: The Italian Renaissance is hardly over, but it definitely took a hit today. After beating Daniil Medvedev five straight times, including at the Australian Open, the world No. 1, Jannik Sinner, fell to the Russian veteran in a four-hour marathon. 

For the first time at Wimbledon, Medvedev won two matches on Centre Court. And, for the second match in a row, he took advantage of an impaired foe. Early in Medvedev’s fourth-round encounter with Grigor Dimitrov, Grigor withdrew. Midway through today’s match, Sinner fell ill. He seemed woozy and dazed and was told to leave the court. When he returned, he played as if a man reborn, bravely counter-attacking and winning the fourth set. But Medvedev’s drop shots were uncanny, and more importantly, his flat backhand dictated, as he pulled away to win 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 to reach his second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal. He lost last year to Alcaraz and will face the Spaniard again.

SHE SMILES, SHE SCURRIES, SHE WINS: American tennis could do without Jasmine Paolini. She smiles, she scurries, she beams – and she downs Americans. She prevailed over the diminished Madison Keys in the fourth round and destroyed the considerable Floridian Emma Navarro in the quarters 6-2, 6-1. The No. 7 player in the world who reached the French Open final will play Donna Vekic in the semis. She has a 2-1 record against the Croat.

‘OH DONNA, OH DONNA!’ In the ancient rock song “Oh, Donna! Oh, Donna!” Richie Valens recalls, “I had a girl, Donna was her name. Since she left me, I’ve never been the same. ‘Cause I love my girl. Donna, where can you be?”

Well, Donna Vekic, after falling short in 43 previous Slams, is into her first ever major semi. After the 28-year old beat the No. 123 qualifier Lulu Sun 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, the Croatian was in tears. Vekic, who is in part coached by Pam Shriver, said, “I felt like I was dying in the first two sets.” But then she battled back and, dare we say, she managed to eclipse the Sun.

RACKET TALK: Andrew Castle said, “I can’t imagine Tommy Paul signing a contract for a racket that he couldn’t spin properly…John McEnroe recalled, “I used to bring six rackets to the court, because I figured I’d break two or three.” 

SOMETHING TO ADMIRE: The BBC’s Clare Balding said,”Tommy Paul is a great racket twirler. That’s something you have to admire.” – The BBC’s Clare Balding

TENNIS TIP OF THE DAY: Andrew Castle suggested that any doubles team that is playing the Spaniards Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz on clay in the upcoming Olympics should “just throw in some dinky serves and duck.”

LIFE KICKS SPORTS IN THE GUT: Sometimes life just kicks sports in the gut. For too long, the Ukrainian war has flatlined in the news cycle. We couldn’t deal with it any more. Then yesterday, in broad daylight, a Russian missile struck Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital, killing 37. Not surprisingly, Ukrainian Elina Svitolina came out on court for her match wearing a black ribbon. After her 6-2, 6-1 win over Wang Xinyu, the 29-year-old broke down in tears, saying, “Today was one of the most difficult matches in my life. Mentally it was beyond anything I have ever faced, but it fails in comparison to what my people at home are going through. It was very difficult to read the news and just go to court.”

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