Novak: A Champion’s Champion 73

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.

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73 thoughts on “Novak: A Champion’s Champion

  • Arnie Stark

    Afteristening to all the comments regarding the match your insights and perspective are a breath of fresh air
    Arnie Stark

  • Ted Murray

    Hi Bob. I couldn’t agree with you more. I started the match rooting for Stan and by the middle of the match was pulling totally for Novak. He became my favorite player after years of almost never pulling for him. I can’t explain why I had such clarity all of a sudden, but I know it was because his qualities as a human being are as extraordinary as his incredible tennis game. The hug he shared with Stan and his comments to the crowd just affirmed even more what a highly evolved human being he is. Tennis is fortunate to have such an amazing human being as a role model for us all. Thanks for sharing your beautiful insights with us.

  • Birgitte Bradshaw

    Great commentary. I really love what you said about changing your story to “I am happy for my opponent even in their victory over me”. I’m going to work on that story. Looking forward to seeing you at the Tennis Congress.

  • Steve Berliner

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Bob. He wins and loses with grace, class and intelligence. A great champion and role model.

  • steve siegel

    hi bob, although i think djokovic was a very good loser after the match, calling for a medical timeout at 1-3 down in the fourth set when everyone knows that you cant do that with cramps he was in my opinion trying to stall for time and ice wawrinka anyone could see that stan was totally pissed off and i give him all the credit in the world for not losing his cool saving break points and winning in four. come on bob a toe injury?? he was trying to recover from cramps and was using the timeout for gamesmanship lets be real here. yes it was great of him after the fact to praise stan and unlike serena who by the way is the worst loser of all time never giving credit to anyone she losses to. a true champion is a great sport during the match not after you have tried everything by trying to stretch the rules to your advantage. anyone who ever played the tour would agree with me lets call it like it is bob.

  • Howard Dorman

    I am going to have to agree with Siegs on this one. While I love and respect Nole greatly I felt as though the way he handled the injury timeouts were unfair to Stan and sitting courtside it was clear Stan agreed. The rules regarding injury timeouts need to be cleaned up in my opinion. Not to seem old fashioned but don’t think Laver or Rosewall would have behaved in that fashion with a toe injury. Also not comfortable with Nole’s interaction with his box almost after every point he loses. Not sure what that is all about but it bugs me. Hats off to Stan, who is a great Champ!

  • Mike Cianci


    Novak called for the trainer twice during the fourth set. The first time he got treated was not on a change over. In fact it was when Stan was ready to serve, which Stan was not very happy about. I think your giving Novak to much credit in that regard. He milks the system just like many other pros.

  • judy

    This is a wonderful lesson. Being able to appreciate an opponent’s success is admirable. And doing it at the very time when we’re disappointed by our own loss is not easy. It means putting ourself aside (for the moment), and looking outward at some
    one else’s achievement and happiness with genuine appreciation. It’s more than good sportsmanship: It’s having a fine character. And it also frees us from anger, envy, jealousy and pain. Enabling us to focus on what we really need to do to improve. Great lesson !

  • Irwin Shorr

    Your insight, Bob, is not only right on target, but also, by this time expected! You write with us all in mind — reaching us all, letting us in. Thank you for yet another view of how tennis reflects life.

  • Sarah Footh

    I do love this post, mainly for the takeaway; being gracious in the face of defeat. It IS freeing. Like a few others I’m not in complete agreement on Novak’s behavior DURING the match although I believe he turned a corner by the end, and that probably took WORK. He has changed his “Story” in recent years as you say…I just think there are still some vestiges of the old Novak which rear their head from time to time…and probably normal…and to his credit again, he’s done A LOT of work. Many thanks, as usual Bob:)

  • Martin

    Yes it surprises me how some people still don’t ‘get’ Novak. The guy will go down as one of the best of all time and is a fantastic role model.

    I never heard Boris and Stefan say a bad word about each other either, no matter how hard they battled against each other.

    Mind you Connors, Mac and Ivan were entertaining in their own ways too lol

  • Lawrence Langner

    Great attitiude…

    Hi Bob…..I’m in//live in Paris, France… cousin Pierre-Hugues Herbert..last years U.S. Open Doubles//Wimbledon winner is playing today Nov. 3 with Mahut In Paris Masters….I’ll be there….

    …Question for you——-this morn I saw a link to one of your blogs on Jane Litwin’s FB page…,…my comment/question is…I am an old Great Neck acquaintance of hers….and you are,______her brother? Second question….do/did you know David Benjamin..long-time tennis player//coachat Princeton University?

    ……in any case,…whoever you are, I greatly appreciate your positive attitude… on..everyone is/can be a winner!!

    Lawrence Langner

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