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Novak Djokovic: The Nice Guy Who Finished First
“Djokovic, will you marry me?” shouted someone from the stands during a US Open practice session. It wasn’t a young woman but a boy about 10 or 11. The good-humored Serb invited him down to the court and handed him his racket. The boy, thrilled to meet his idol, served a few balls, including an ace past Djokovic, who wasn’t holding a racket. When Djokovic high-fived and hugged the smiling boy, spectators applauded.
Djokovic was the 2012 Laureus Sportsman of the Year.
The heartwarming episode illustrates why Djokovic is winning fans as well as tournaments these days. Once criticized for retiring from matches and excessive ball bouncing, Djokovic, who dethroned Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to rank No. 1, is now competing with them in popularity as well. He won the 2012 Sportsman of the Year award, the top individual honor, at the prestigious Laureus Sports Awards a week after he captured the Australian Open, his fifth Grand Slam title.
The 5-hour, 53-minute Australian final between Djokovic and Nadal was filled with such dazzling shot-making and brutal physicality that many compared it favorably to the 2008 Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final, considered the greatest match in history. “So incredibly, unbelievably, awesome. For me, this is as much, if not more and better quality tennis,” praised four-time major titlist Jim Courier. Just as he had done in the 2010 and 2011 US Open semifinals against Federer, Djokovic rallied from the brink of defeat to prevail against Nadal, the ultimate warrior.
Click photo: The 5-hour, 53-minute Australian final between Djokovic and Nadal was filled with dazzling shot-making and brutal physicality.
A demigod in his homeland—his face is the Facebook avatar of the prime minister of Serbia—Djokovic gladly serves as its unofficial ambassador both on and off the courts. He deeply feels the tragedy of the war in the Balkans he experienced as a boy and understands how the war helped make him a champion.
“I feel a need to represent my country and to allow people to see in public my story,” Djokovic said. “The [Serbian] tennis players, how we grew up, especially the generation that had to go through wars and difficult times where you didn’t have much support, didn’t have professional facilities that could accommodate you and allow you to develop yourself into a professional tennis player. Because not many countries in the world have been through what we did, what we have been through. We know how it feels to lose close ones, lose your own people in the war, touch the bottomness as a country in every aspect of life, and then stand up and be stronger, be reborn out of it.”
It was all fun and games in Rio where Djokovic sported a Kuerten type wig in his exhibition match against Guga.
From such dark times come not only courage but empathy and a joie de vivre. With a $10 million fund, Djokovic’s “Clothes for Smiles” program was established in collaboration with Japanese retail giant UNIQLO to give children worldwide of all ages a chance for a better future. For his contributions through the Novak Djokovic Foundation, his role as a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
ambassador, and other charitable ventures, Djokovic was selected as the Association of Tennis Professionals’ Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year in 2012.
Leo Durocher once cynically remarked: “Nice guys finish last.” Novak Djokovic disproves that every day.
Ever the showman, the Djoker charmed spectators in Beijing and Taiwan when he danced Gangnam style with the ball boys and girls. In Rio de Janeiro, he and former Brazilian star Gustavo Kuerten helped inaugurate a public tennis court in the Rocinha shantytown. They played an exhibition (Guga won 7-6, 7-5) before more than 10,000 people, and Djokovic further entertained the crowd by dancing and putting on a big wig to imitate the curly hairstyle of Kuerten.
And why not court the influential media, too? At the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Djokovic passed out chocolates to them for their “cooperation throughout the whole year.”
Gracious in both victory and defeat, Djokovic praised his US Open conqueror and friend, Andy Murray, after their five-set final: “I’m disappointed to lose the match. [But] I had a great opponent today. He deserved to win this Grand Slam [event] more than anybody, because over the years he’s been a top player. I’m happy he won it.”
American baseball player and manager Leo Durocher once cynically remarked: “Nice guys finish last.” Novak Djokovic disproves that every day.
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Bring the Match (Stress) to Your Practice
I found this piece by Jerôme Inen particularly helpful despite the fact that it goes against everything you may have been taught with regards to stress free practicing. His advice, start imagining terrible things going on while you are hitting and, at the same time, focus on the bounce of the ball on the ground and the hit against your racquet. If you are able to salvage some focus on the process despite defocusing yourself, you’re on your way to become a better match player.
The Drive in the Modern Game
Another great piece from one of our deepest thinkers. It's often said that players like Federer and Djokovic hit through the ball and really penetrate the court with their groundstrokes. Here, Doug King takes a closer look at this concept of driving the ball, the balance between forward motion and the amount of spin necessary to bring the ball back down into the court, and what that means in the modern game of tennis.
The Forehand Groundstroke and the Lag
Christophe Delavaut takes a close look at the forehand groundstroke and all its aspects including the unit turn, dropping the racquet into the slot, the double bend position, and the rhythm of the stroke. But more specifically, Christophe focuses on the "lag," the way the wrist impacts this stroke and helps to produce the kind of effortless power we see among the pros.
The Push Up and the Pull Down Serve
Why do so many women on the WTA tour have trouble with the serve? Here Mark Gellard, touches on some of the benefits of the push-up serving method (think Roger Federer) as opposed to the pull-down method (favored by Venus Williams and many of the women). Mark goes into great detail as to why the push-up method is far superior and he provides three very simple drills to help you with your own serve..
Do you regularly suffer from tennis related injuries? Do you have trouble maintaining consistency when generating power? Do you have trouble handling powerful shots? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you will likely benefit from learning about what Daryl Fisher calls "stable alignment." Achieving stable alignment involves the relative positioning of parts of your body as you hit the ball that creates the greatest stability and resilience — put quite simply, a strong rather than a weakened position.
The Serve and Volley in the Modern Game
If you are like most players, you probably learned that the key to serve and volleying successfully was to get to the service line, split step, then move forward into the volley. However, that is not the way things work at the pro level or even at higher levels at your local club. The fact is that the ball is traveling much to fast and there really isn't enough time. Former touring pro, Jeff Salzenstein explains.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
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