A Champion’s Champion
What a delight it was to witness Novak Djokovic’s ascension to the top of my Champion’s Champion list.
In his loss yesterday to Stan Wawrinka, Novak reached rarefied air. Never losing his powerful competitive drive to win, he continued to make full effort despite cramps and a painful toe in the final stages of the finals. (Don’t think for a minute that a sore toe is a small deal). Even as he played one return game in the final set that looked like he would not try anymore, his inner drive kicked in and he continued to battle. He couldn’t quit. He played for himself, for the fans and for the integrity of the game.
He could have called for the trainer as he did many years ago against this same opponent. But he didn’t. He just played on. The new and improved version of Nole, the person. It was special to watch.
But the biggest moment for me was his post loss speech. He spoke glowingly of Stan, his big match player opponent. He was proud of the man who took his US Open crown. He exhibited a genuine joy for his opponent’s wonderful success. No complaints or excuses of injury or difficult personal issues. No whining about the crowd rooting for his underdog opponent. He was grateful for being there in the end. He showed his appreciation for the fans and for the tournament.
I love how he has changed his story over the last seven years from arrogance to humility, from an adversary to a friend of the crowd, from desperate to win to being able to take a loss with dignity and class. From being isolated from other players to being looked at as a role model. For all of us who play in any game.
Around twenty years ago I witnessed a special moment in tennis and it changed me forever. Becker vs Edberg in a seesaw five set final at Wimbledon. They hugged at the end and, to this day, I don’t remember who won. Because, to me, they both won that day. I remember thinking, “I want to feel that way in a loss.” I wrote the story, “I am happy for my opponent even in their victory over me.” I worked on becoming that story. Six months later I lost in the semis while defending the National 40 Grass. As I walked to the net and hugged my new friend Bob Hansen, the words flowed out of me. “I am so happy for you. You so deserve to be competing for the title.”
One of the highlights of my tennis career. And my life. To this day, I always take the time to reach out to a player who defeats me to let them know how pleased I am for them.
Novak, I am so happy for you to have reached this wonderful spot in your career. Over the last few years I have become a fan of your extraordinary game. Yesterday I became a lifetime fan of Novak, the person.