Wimbledon: Scottish retreat has fuelled Novak Djokovic’s tournament desire
Djokovic returns to work today in a setting as stirring as any he relished while on a restorative trip to Gleneagles with his girlfriend following his French Open defeat. The world No. 1 yesterday explained how he rested “emotionally, physically and mentally” during a few days spent in Scotland, where he also paid homage to Andy Murray by way of a photograph beneath a sign pointing the way to Dunblane.
Djokovic will now be hoping all roads lead back to Centre Court, where the Serbian begins his title defence in traditional manner this afternoon. He is conscious of the very real danger posed by Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former French Open winner, but otherwise struggled to hide his excitement yesterday as he contemplated being among the first two competitors to tread on the famous turf this year. “There are no trails of sliding, just virgin grass,” he said. “It’s going to be a fantastic feeling I think. I am really looking forward to it. When I won Wimbledon last year I started to think about how it’s going to be to walk out on the court on Monday at 1pm. It brings the little butterflies in my stomach, that’s for sure.”
Djokovic has done the hard yards in his quest to become world No. 1, eventually building on the foundations put in place when winning his first grand slam title, in Australia in 2008. Many feared this might prove to be a flash-in-the-pan success, including himself. He had to fathom why he was not able to emulate this triumph until fully three years later, whereupon he has barely allowed anyone else a look-in. His ability to make the small changes required gives Andy Murray hope as the Scot attempts to make the same kind of breakthrough.
On his recent trip to Scotland, Djokovic sought to soothe the fears of those who wonder whether Murray will ever make the final leap forward. It was the question he was most frequently asked during his travels, which saw him stop off in Edinburgh and Stirling. Taxi drivers, hotel porters and waiters all wanted to know one thing: Will Andy ever win a grand slam? Djokovic believes so, and reckons it will come “very soon”. To those who persisted in this line of questioning, Djokovic tried to explain further, using his own experience of bridging the “small margins” in his game.
“I really believe that he [Murray] has the qualities,” said Djokovic. “He was in, what, three or four finals, he was in many semi-finals, on all surfaces. He has improved over the years playing on clay courts. You can feel there is a lot of expectation and pressure on his back. He feels it too, so, at the latter stages of events, I think it is just a matter of being able to fight that.”
Djokovic tried everything when seeking to make that slim improvement which turned a one-time grand slam victor into a multiple winner. The switch to a non-gluten diet was, he says, only “a piece of the puzzle”. Just as important was the input from those in the background.
“I have been learning every single day of my career,” he said. “I always want to make myself a better player, a fitter player and a better person. I am trying to improve in every sense. Luckily for me I have been able to find the right team of people, which is extremely important because this is an individual sport. People always talk about you as an individual who won or lost the match but, actually, it is a team of people who matter. Everything is a team effort.
“They are all trying to do their piece of work to make sure my life on the court is easier – the diet, the recovery, the stretching, the physical preparation, the mental preparation, the tennis strategy, the technique, tactics. All these things, the small details, make up the big picture that you need to have.”
Whatever happens over the next fortnight, Djokovic won’t have to wait a year to return to the lush courts of SW19. The strict all-white competitors’ dress code will be suspended when the players gather here again later this summer for the Olympics. He dismissed the notion that Wimbledon could be viewed as some sort of “dress rehearsal” before the quest for an Olympic gold, although Djokovic has himself suggested that, if he could win one tournament this year, then he would opt for the Olympics. “I don’t believe Wimbledon can be a rehearsal for anything,” he said. “It’s the most respected, most well-known, most valuable tennis tournament in the world. This is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of our sport.
“But, of course, the Olympic Games are something outside comparison with any other tournaments,” he added. “The Olympics are the pinnacle of all sports, in my opinion. I had the honour to represent my country four years ago in Beijing, where I won the bronze medal. It was one of the best feelings and the best achievements I have had as a professional athlete. Most of the tournaments we play, we play as individual tennis players. There are very few competitions where we can feel the team spirit, only the Davis Cup. But the Olympics mean more.
“It is very emotional because it is not just you who matters, it is the whole nation. It’s going to be interesting to see colours at Wimbledon, because we always have to go out on the courts all dressed in white. We’re going to have the opportunity to wear the national colours.”
Today, however, it is Djokovic versus Ferrero, not Serbia versus Spain. Djokovic deserves all the glory going if it forms the initial step in a first successful defence of the title since 2007, when Roger Federer claimed the last of five successive victories.