Novak Djokovic is an idiot.
Before you start storming my castle (how do you know I don’t have one?!), let me say I am an idiot too. In fact, I take pride in how much of an idiot I am, but only in the presence of Novak Djokovic am I forced to bow down in seething jealously and admiration to the greatness of how much of an idiot he is. There is absolutely nothing he won’t do. Get rubbed down in baby oil by an old lady in a house dress? Sure. Act out the entire Thriller video on stage complete with make-up and page boy wig? Absolutely. Work sparkly red nipple tassels with more skill than the 2 a.m. headliner at the Foxy Lady? Yes.
And yet, a couple months ago when I told non-tennis loving friends (I allow myself one or two) that I was going to interview Novak for USA Today, most had no idea who he was. Djokowho? This launched the stockings clear off my feet. By this point he’d won 15 matches in a row, but more importantly TWO GRAND SLAMS. What does it take America?!
Novak is having fun ...and winning!
Immediately I went about tracking down the best clip or two I could find to showcase the ridiculously ridiculous spectacle that is Djokovic. Before I knew it I had assembled a top 10 list of Novak’s greatest off-court hits. I shared it with them with great pleasure, as I share it with you now.
10. MIMIC NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuFzMEJQZW0
9. SURVIVOR NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAt0O-RkRwk
8. WAX ON WAX OFF NOVAK: https://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/video/video.php?v=10150270763276040
7. BALD NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu9Z6EnwMTQ
6. THRILLER NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-T5qnm6lXM
5. CATWALK NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ57yYeoLU4
4. SHADY NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcStTtXw1EM
3. XXX NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcJBbqgev_w
2. NIPPLY NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31f6Ar6DSM0
1. GYPSY NOVAK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtroAInG-1A
Fast forward two months and Novak is poised to take over the No 1 ranking. When this happens, be it this week in Rome, or in Paris, or on the grass, he’ll start to transcend to the mainstream. Translation: my idiot friends who don’t follow tennis. His tennis is jaw-dropping, his win streak as impressive as hell, but it’s having a No 1 next to your name that makes people suddenly care. People will see what we’ve seen all along, a guy with a huge personality who doesn’t take life so seriously.
We almost lost this Novak. The minute he became a Grand Slam Champion (you can’t hear me but I’m saying it in a seriously hoity-toity accent), the pressure was on to buckle down, drop the silly impersonations and, well, grow up. His play didn’t suffer - he stayed right there at the top – but he didn’t improve. Talk turned to coaching changes, racquet changes, serving woes. It became all work and no play. It made Johnny a dull boy. The joy was gone.
But then the Novak we knew returned. If he was going to do this tennis thing, it was going to be on his terms. On court and off. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may not throw on a blond wig, shove tennis balls up their shirt and cavort on Viktor Troicki’s lap Shakira-style, but damn it he would! The results have spoken for themselves. He’s riding a 30-whatever match win streak (is it just me or has that number become an Isner/Mahut-type blur, so ridiculous it’s lost all meaning?), and now this fool is about to become the first No 1 player not named Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer since 2004.
Sure, when trying to figure out how this all happened, we can look to an increased confidence after beating Roger Federer at the U.S. Open. We can talk about the magic of Davis Cup and a gluten-free diet. But at the end of the day, I track the moment his success began to the moment he decided to stop giving a damn what people thought a tennis champion should be and just stayed true to himself.
When Novak Djokovic becomes our next No 1, I will be thrilled. Not because I’m giddy at the thought of having an idiot who’ll do anything for a laugh at the top (though frankly, I am). Not because he’s a great guy who deserves recognition for his unbelievable achievement (though frankly, he is). It’s because his path to glory has been about the struggle to fit a mold and the bravery to break it.
Ultimately, the No 1 lesson we’ve learned from Novak Djokovic isn’t in how to hit the ball, or work a point, or even be a fool. It’s to be yourself.
Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.