IN REVIVING a tradition that apparently died out around the mid-1970s, Novak Djokovic has again underlined his respect for the heritage of a sport that still fills him with the same joy as when he first picked up a racket.
It had been his idea, he revealed yesterday, to join forces with Serena Williams, the ladies singles champion, for a victory waltz the previous evening, at the Champions’ dinner. The pair colluded in a version of the Night Fever dance routine from the film Saturday Night Fever, which starred John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney.
The results were as brilliantly awkward as might be imagined. The footage had already gone viral by the time Djokovic met with reporters yesterday, to maintain a tradition that has not fallen by the wayside – the champion’s “the-day-after-the-night-before” press conference. He was around 20 minutes late, and no, he hadn’t been cringing in a corner somewhere.
“There was no practice,” explained Djokovic. “I suggested the idea to [All England Club chairman] Philip Brook and to Serena and fortunately they accepted it. So I hoped that this tradition which was a bit forgotten – I think the last year they had a dance between the two champions was 1986 or something like that, or even earlier?
“Boris [Becker] told me that he had a dance with Navratilova and he won in 1985. So after that there was no dancing. I was very pleased because Serena is a great dancer.”
According to the Lawn Tennis Club, the champions ceased to dance in 1976, after which the Champions’ Ball became the Champions’ Dinner. That year the event moved from the Grosvenor House Hotel to the Savoy. So while Becker, now Djokovic’s coach, might indeed have jived with Martina Navratilova after his first SW19 win 30 years ago, the last “official” Wimbledon waltzers were Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg.
And it seems pretty certain that they did not dance to anything from Saturday Night Fever, since the film was not released until the following year. This particular routine wasn’t Djokovic’s idea; he had plans for something a little more in keeping with the dinner’s present setting, at the spectacular Guildhall.
“I was thinking more of a waltz, or something sophisticated,” he said. “Something that would blend into the environment of the beautiful hall where we had the dinner yesterday. But Serena wanted to move a little bit more, so then we considered other options. And Night Fever came to life, so it was Night Fever. And you can imagine how that looked.”
But Djokovic was glad to have helped resuscitate a dying tradition. In himself and Williams, there are no finer athletes to follow in the twinkle-toed footsteps of Evert and Borg. Djokovic, after all, now has nine Grand Slam titles, just two behind Borg’s total of 11. Evert, meanwhile, racked up a remarkable 18, a number Djokovic’s dance partner on Sunday has already surpassed.
But the ones who are really in Djokovic’s sights are the pair who, along with the Serb himself, make-up tennis’s holy trinity – Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, whom Djokovic defeated so impressively in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic must have known he was going to be asked whether he can emulate or overhaul both players. If the 28-year-old can continue winning at the pace of recent years, their totals of 17 [Federer] and 14 [Nadal] can certainly be reached.
Indeed, if he hadn’t experienced a surprise loss at the French Open in June, the one tournament that continues to elude him, Djokovic would be aiming for a calendar Grand Slam along with Williams at the US Open later this summer.
“I don’t want to say it’s too early to talk about it, because yes, it’s probably the right time to talk about it,” he admitted, when asked whether he has ambitions to overhaul both Federer and Nadal.
“But again I am still far, far away from that. It’s still a long way ahead. I mean, winning one Grand Slam – I know what it takes, and it’s a lot of effort. A lot of things have to come together so to reach these two guys would be something incredible. But honestly, I am not thinking about it now.”
So how long will he go on for he was asked at the end of a press conference where he looked incredibly fresh and clear-eyed for a recently-crowned Wimbledon champion who had been dancing until the early hours.
Unsurprisingly, he feels at the top of his game now. So long as his passion remains undimmed, he will keep on hunting down Federer and Nadal, with only, perhaps, Andy Murray and recent challenger Stan Wawrinka to worry about in addition to his two other great rivals.
With so much potential history within his grasp, Djokovic certainly doesn’t want for motivation.
“First and foremost there is a passion and a love for the sport, the joy I find in playing tennis,.That’s the reason why I picked up the racket when I was young and that’s why I am here today with you, because I just enjoy playing it,” he said. “I love it, I love competing. It’s a big part of my life and what I do.
“I still have this flare [lighting up] inside of me. I have this passion and love for the sport and I enjoy coming out on the court and doing the repetitive things that sometimes are not very pleasant.
“But at the end of the day it pays off and it allows you to be in the position to fight for these trophies.
“Right now I feel like I’m at the peak of my abilities and career,” he added. “I want to use that for as long as I can. How long I can go? I really don’t want to predict anything. Roger is 33 and he doesn’t also think about how many years he can go.
“A few years ago he had the first season that was below his standard, people were saying to him to retire. But the next year it came down to one or two matches and he was fighting for number one in the world.
“Now he’s playing in the final of Grand Slams, fighting for trophies. He definitely deserves respect for everything he keeps on doing and achieves. Hopefully I will be able to be as healthy as him and keep going.”