Seven months ago, Novak Djokovic had his head shaved to celebrate Serbia’s first Davis Cup victory.
His mother certainly didn’t like it.
For the rest of us, it seemed more proof that he should really be called “Joke”-ovic, a player who despite his wells of tennis talent wasn’t worth taking too seriously and who had perhaps been driven a little nutty by years of banging his head against two immovable objects: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Well, sorry, Novak, we take it all back. That haircut seems like absolute genius now.
Leading a Serbian comeback over France in December proved to be the catalyst for the most impressive run to open a season by a man in a quarter-century.
Taking his once war-scarred country to the top changed Djokovic. Although it was a team effort, he learned about himself, about how good it felt to be No. 1. He says so. His mother says so. So does his uncle. And the tennis record books prove it.
48-1. That’s 48 victories _ including, with Wimbledon, two Grand Slam singles titles _ and just one defeat in six months. Not since John McEnroe went 52-1 in 1984 has the sport seen anything like it.
“After the Davis Cup win, I was full of life, full of energy, eager to come back to the tennis court, eager to play some more, win some other tournaments,” Djokovic said Sunday after dethroning Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 in the Wimbledon final.
“In a sentence: I lost my fear. I believed in my abilities more than ever.”
And, now, so do we all.
In the first two sets against Nadal, he barely put a foot wrong. The player who used to be waylaid by mystery ailments during matches, at times brilliant, at times flaky, was as serious as one can be during the final, all focus, fine forehands and poise. For tennis purists, he even threw in a dose of serve-and-volley, earning himself championship point _ he only needed one _ by coming confidently to the net and sending his volleyed winner cross-court.
“Winning, in just over an hour, two sets against the defending champion on the court that he hasn’t lost (on) for three years was incredible,” he said. “You know, I was just trying to enjoy the tennis that I play. Obviously, it was the best tennis match on grass courts that I’ve played ever, for sure.”
He literally tasted his victory, crouching down and pulling up some blades from the hallowed turf and popping them in his mouth.
“I felt like an animal,” said Djokovic. “I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good.”