Women and men, who compete in a particular sport at a particular time and achieve the best results we call Champions. They come, they win and when the time comes, they retire. Those who continue to live in posterity are called Masters. In my opinion, in order for a champion to become a Master she/he must have a unique talent, work discipline and above all a great heart.
Regarding tennis, first world class tournament that I attended as spectator was Wimbledon in late 80’s. The latest tournament that I attended as a spectator was the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March of this year. More specifically, both the final and semi-final matches. After watching Djokovic vs. Nadal (SF) and Djokovic vs. Raonic (F) I left the stadium convinced that Novak Djokovic turned the sport’s arena into a library a few times during the games. Basicly, people watched a great Champion at work, in silence. Scores were not on our minds, rather the beauty of tennis consumed us. It was easy to feel that the hearts and the minds of many people had accepted and welcomed Novak Djokovic, as their own.
Now, the question is: Is Novak Djokovic a Tennis Master of our time? After winning so superbly against his major competitors and breaking records at the same time, for years now, answer should be: Yes! I say, not yet! You may ask why not? For me, the question is not whether Novak Djokovic deserves the most prestigious title, it is rather the question of how well we know Novak Djokovic, the man and the tennis player, basically Novak’s life story. Novak’s incomparable tennis record should not be the only important factor in our decision making process. We have to learn how Nole responds after a defeat. The Master’s way of responding after a defeat is one of the most valuable lessons that we will ever learn. Such experience will allow us to understand and benefit greatly when we find ourselves on one of life’s crossroads. Before we full heartedly accept Novak, the most admired tennis champion into the Master’s club, we must accept Novak’s soul. Reminder, we have only one Master title to give every 25 years.
Well, I read Chris Bowers’ book about Novak Djokovic. On page 23, five year old Novak was asked by the famous tennis player and coach Mrs. Jelena Gencic, upon arriving to his first tennis lesson: “Who packed your bag, your mother?” Five year old Novak frowned with anger: “I packed it! I ‘m playing tennis here, not my mother.” Seeing his bag packed as if he was going to compete at a major tournament, Mrs. Gencic understood that her “deepest apology” to five year old Novak is in order and she did apologize. The first tennis lesson of today’s World’s Number 1 followed their conversation. Mrs. Gencic realized from the beginning that her full attention will be required in working with Novak. What helped them in their work is that both of them, five year old Novak and 50 year old Mrs. Gencic, belived that Novak will become the best male tennis player in the world by his 20s. Novak never stopped believing in his dream, and neither did Mrs. Gencic. It is important to mention here that Mrs. Gencic, was the coach of the World’s Number 1 female tennis player, Monika Seles, at the time when she met little Novak. To better understand their relationship and the heart and mind of Novak Djokovic it should be mentioned that Novak presented Mrs. Gencic, his “tennis mother”, with a special gift, his first Wimbledon trophy. Such a decision can be made only by a person with great heart, full of love for people and sport. In short, by a Tennis Master in the making.
If I am not mistaken, Nole’s and Mrs. Gencic’s “conversation” is still on, though Mrs. Gencic died in 2013. I wouldn’t be surprised if she “sees” more trophies and more records for Nole. We should be patient and watch Nole on his phenomenal journey. We should keep in mind that records and trophies, in Nole’s case, should be viewed only as the most convincing explanation why world call Novak Djokovic the number 1 tennis player of our time. For us, to full heartedly accept Novak Djokovic as the champion of all champions, as the Tennis Master of our time, we must take closer look at his heart. We must agree that his human qualities on the tennis court and in life in general qualify him to live in posterity and be a raw model for generations to come.
Fortunately for Nole, his approach to life and sport offers evidence of his great heart and great mind. His genuine respect towards other tennis players, above all his closest competitors, is part of Nole’s DNA, as are Nole’s gentlemanly conduct on and outside the tennis court. Djokovic’s charity work for the benefit of children and young generation, is a beautiful story on its own. Here, we need to mention Nole’s wife, Jelena Djokovic, and her big heart and her efforts in directing the Djokovic Foundation smoothly. They are talking to us in one voice and telling us how Nole’s unique talent, work discipline and their hearts without borders can inspire love among people through sport and charity work. With that in mind, in my opinion, Novak Djokovic will soon be named, the First Tennis Master of the 21st century, and rightfully so. Nole’s example will be great story to new tennis players, other athletes and young people in general. Allowing them to be recognized for their big hearts and professional achievements as well, as all Masters are and always will be.
Photo by George Djordjevic