In the end, Novak Djokovic won his seventh Wimbledon final with far more ease than some other epic matches he has played. The Serb’s four-set victory over unseeded Nick Kyrgios takes him into second place in the all-time list of Grand Slam men’s winners with 21 titles, one behind Nadal and one more than Federer.
“I don’t feel I’m in rush really anywhere to end my career,” re-enforced the champion what is apparent to his fans and critics alike. Along with his dog with a bone doggedness, Djokovic’s greatest asset is his fitness that belies the fact that he is 35 himself and just a year younger than Rafael Nadal. Before his withdrawal from the Wimbledon semi-final due to an abdominal tear, Rafa has been encumbered by a foot injury that has on occasion forced him to take local anaesthesia before a match. Roger Federer, the player who invented an era, is 40 and has dropped out of rankings for the first time in 25 years after a knee surgery layoff. The field is open for the Serb.
But the pursuit of greatness is a complicated business, statistics and accomplishments alone don’t give permanence at the pedestal which itself can be a slippery slope as it demands a little extra — that of transcending sport to attain immortality. This is where Djokovic’s biggest fight is — to crossover into the oft used phrase ‘people’s champion’ where he still remains the third wheel in a club of two friends, Federer and Nadal.
Djokovic in the last two years has shown he has on some occasions played only for himself, perhaps it is just as well tennis is not a team sport.
There have been as many accolades for Djokovic as breaking hearts for Rafa’s injury laden end at Wimbledon that stopped the Spaniard’s bid for a Calendar Year Slam, having won both the Australian Open and French Open titles earlier this year. It doesn’t help that Rafa not just folds his towels meticulously during a match but also acknowledges all officials personally before leaving Wimbledon.
Winston Churchill once said, with greatness comes responsibility. Immediately after defending his Wimbledon title for the fourth time, Djokovic announced that he still has no plans of getting vaccinated for Covid-19, likely ruling him out of the US and Australian Open. He was deported back from Australia earlier this year and knows that exemptions are unlikely.
Djokovic a role model for anti- vaxxers
Intentionally or unintended, Djokovic is a role model for anti- vaxxers and although vaccination is personal, his vehement opposition has encouraged not just a mockery of science but has also over time exposed others to the virus. He is the same person who believes that water can be purified by positive thoughts sending many a scientists to an early grave. Djokovic’s wife complements her husband’s theories, her post to millions of followers that 5G caused the pandemic was flagged by Instagram as fake news.
The Serb’s fans admire him for his ability to keep his personal convictions above the need to win even a Grand Slam tournament but Djokovic’s nonchalance — outwardly or real at possibly not playing another slam till French Open 2023 does not hide the fact that he lied about his medical history and tried everything he could even legally before being deported from Australia. An unforced error or a double fault, a champion’s messaging (or no messaging as in the case of India’s much hyped cricketers) has to honour his or her place in the sun. Every player can have a bad day but when we talk of an era as we often do now seeing that it could end sooner than later, it is only Djokovic who in 2020 as the US Open top seed was defaulted after a ball that he lashed in anger hit a female line judge.
Records do the talking, but in a time of global flux it is athletes like former Sri Lankan cricketers who will be remembered for talking to the streets and standing in solidarity with their countrymen and women against the economic crisis in the country. Djokovic in the last two years has shown he has on some occasions played only for himself, perhaps it is just as well tennis is not a team sport.
Yet the player is comfortable in his skin and his legion of fans believe in his belief. Similar to Rafa and Fedex he doesn’t give superstar vibes outside the court and his discipline is remarkable although at times a bit bizarre — he was inhaling content from a bottle at Wimbledon. But while this is what should count, Djokovic has winning records over both Federer and Nadal — 27-23 over the Swiss and 30-29 over Nadal, it was a non-playing Roger Federer who got the biggest ovation at Wimbledon.
Perhaps Djokovic’s real test will be when he gets overwhelming support in a match against Rafa or Federer if the latter was to come back for one last hurrah. Until then in this pursuit for greatness, there are three champions but only two crossed over.