Kopaonik, Serbia, date unknown.
A young boy has fun hitting a tennis ball against one of the walls of the local tennis club. Outside of him, the influx of people is continuous there. A beautiful mountain range surrounds the place while the boy does not stop rallying against that wall. If at that time, the name of Novak Djokovic He said absolutely nothing to anyone in the area, many years later, they would discover him as the number 1 that started there, next to them, without anyone even being able to imagine what he was going to become tomorrow.
Years later, the war forced the Djokovic family to leave the place to their fate. To this day, that same wall is still barely standing and on it you can still see the impacts of the bullets that one day hit it. In 2014, Novak returned to the place where one day he picked up a racket for the first time, and nostalgically visited that wall he played with as a child. The same wall that he ended up becoming. Not only as a tennis player capable of giving everything back, but as the one against whom everyone, the public and the press, pointed.
At first he didn’t understand it, but over time he learned to give it all back. He used that public anger against him to use it as a source of motivation in his matches. The public chanted the name of his rival. “Roger, Roger”, while he, replicated in his head how they sang “Nole, Nole”. The years passed, and no matter how many records he achieved, no matter how much he surpassed himself as a tennis player, for all the good he did to this sport, he practically never received the affection of the public.
He lowered his arms. He gave up. He ended up accepting it. The journalists asked him again and again why he believed that he did not have the support of the stands. He tried to downplay it, to make it look like it didn’t affect him, when it really was something that hurt him, that it had him stuck deep inside. He ended up living it, game by game, as usual. He stopped hoping that one day, people in the audience would go with him. Until, suddenly, everything changed.
Sunday, September 12, 2021, New York, USA.
Djokovic entered the Arthur Ashe at about four in the afternoon, local time. He was only three sets away from making history. His name would be inscribed in gold letters in tennis history books. He would become the second man in history to win all four Grand Slams in the same year. He had never been so close to achieving it. He could almost brush his fingers over it.
He is seen smiling at the entrance to the track. Looks relaxed on the outside. Inside, it is the opposite. Only he and his people know the pressure he has had to suffer in recent weeks to find himself so close to a historic achievement. He has tried by all means to avoid the issue in each question at the foot of the court after each game at this US Open, at each press conference. He was a very short time away from taking that pressure off his chest. For better or for worse, it was all going to be over in a few hours.
He was the favorite against Medvedev. He had it all in his face, a priori. He had already beaten that same rival seven months ago, in the final of the Australian Open. Everything was ready. There is nothing that could go wrong. But in a few minutes, he began to see that things were not going well. His legs were unresponsive. Surely the 17 hours it took on the track to get there had an influence. Also his head, totally exhausted after so many days seeing himself on the edge of the precipice, as when he started set against in each of the four previous games.
First set, Daniil. Things get complicated. It was time to row again, once more. “I have done it before, in the previous four rounds. I can do it one more time “, he told himself. He was right. I could do it. In Medvedev’s first serve game, Nole had a 0-40 score that allowed him to finally have three break options. The film ran along the same paths of the four previous views on that same court, but the Russian turned everything around and ended up taking the game.
That was received by Djokovic as a direct uppercut to the chin. It knocked him out. He saw the door open, but it was slammed across his face. It did not return. Desperate, he ended up breaking his racket a few games later. If in the Roland Garros and Wimbledon finals there was a comeback atmosphere after starting losing, last night, things looked very bad.
When the third set began, there were still many people waiting for the resurrection of the Serbian in the match, but when he suffered a break, he himself understood that this was not going to be his day. With the double break, history was written. It was then that his mind could breathe.
It is at that moment, when Novak understands that the story changed lanes and got out of its way. The same pressure that had been installed in his chest and his mind for so many weeks, left him. It is right there when he plays more freely and gets the long-awaited break. It had taken two and a half hours to finish to achieve it. He smiles. He knows that, despite having injured his rival, he is still badly injured and cornered and that it is a matter of time before his defeat occurs. At that precise moment, it happens.
The crowd of the Arthur Ashe, almost full, stands up and begins to cheer him on. He applauds him. There are many who sing his name. Djokovic smiles again. Drink water and raise your fist several times. While swallowing, he hits his hand on the heart. For more than 30 seconds, the New York crowd professes their love for Nole, something they have never done before. How curious, in all the years where he ended up winning there and was the best, he never took him away. Just when he was hurt and in one of the toughest moments of his career, maybe even when he needed it most, they turned on him.
Nole drowned her face in the towel and burst into tears. Orphan of the pressure that had drowned him so much for weeks, seeing the love of the people, that rocky wall forged for so many years, simply broke. He let go. Unlike Kopaonik’s, his was shocked by the love of the public. He had waited many years for people to finally be fair to him. He will have had his things, like everyone else, but a man like him, who continues to fight to be the GOAT of this sport, he did not deserve that the stands were always against him.
He wiped the tears as best he could on his towel and prepared to subtract. Already in position, some tears were still resting on her lashes. He jumped up and down, waiting for the last battle, like that wounded gladiator who knows perfectly what his destiny is, but still has the courage and courage to look at defeat face to face and tell him that there he is, that nothing mattered anymore, because everything was decided and he had accepted it.
When Medvedev’s victory was consummated, Novak sat on his bench, put away his things and looked up at the New York sky as night began to overtake day. The story may slip through your fingers He may not have been able to lift the champion title, but he took home something he had never had before, and that perhaps for him it was even as or more important than the trophy on a sentimental level: the affection of the people.