Sincere and funny apology to Novak.
I'm sorry, Novak Djokovic
By Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well, shame on you again. But fool me 64 times and send me swiftly to the shrink.
We're all searching to unearth the Novak Djokovic secret. How did this jokester-turned juggernaut transform himself into the game's best? The diet details and this spaceship-like pressurized egg thingy that purportedly simulates high altitude and production of red blood cells are well-known. (By the way, it's been reported that side effects may include headaches, vomiting and fatigue -- not exactly a tennis player's winning formula. Also, odd that this form of oxygen therapy, which, in this case, is ultimately used for endurance can cause languish. Kind of counterintuitive, no? Maybe try something less involved -- you know, like a bed.)
Don't miss a moment of the latest tennis coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join »
Anyway, where were we? Yes, Djokovic and the butt-kicking cog he is. Event after event. Match by match. Set by set. He simply never succumbed to the rigors of the job. He never once failed the Rafael Nadal test (6-0 in 2011). He refused to let a couple of meager match points against Roger Federer come between him and his third Slam of the season. But now that the results of event after event, match by match and set by set are in, there's no choice but to confess the ugly truth: I was not a believer. Never once did I look to you in our (so-called) experts' picks. Heck, you weren't even my second choice. Once, I even had a fleeting thought of (gasp!) taking Andy Murray. Oh my goodness, how did it all go so wrong? (Another pressurized chamber tidbit: No tangible evidence, to this point, that it aids in making smart choices.)
So, Novak Djokovic, you of the absurd 64-3 record, a heartfelt apology is long overdue. I'm sorry for not being a true believer, from your mastery in Melbourne, to your beloved Wimbledon crown, to the trifecta in Flushing.
Through all those wins, titles (10), trophies (10, too) and accolades (a whole lot), I didn't have confidence in the man oozing with confidence, the force who singlehandedly ripped apart the dynamic duopoly of Nadal and Federer. And you accomplished all these feats by gracefully assimilating to each new environment, court surface and a new arrangement of fidgety foes just waiting to thwart the indomitable Djoker. They all failed. You did not.
But lest we forget, you defied the detractors in all those non-Slam events, too. Five Masters Series titles -- an ATP World Tour record. From Indian Wells to Montreal you were too good, too focused. And these were not flimsy opponents by any stretch. At the Rogers Cup, when so many of us foolishly predicted a post-Wimbledon letdown, your victims, in order, were Nikolay Davydenko, Marin Cilic, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish. Not exactly cupcakes. But the total number of sets you lost: one.
I'm especially regretful for not buying into your clay-court prowess (actually, awesomeness). In Rome, I vividly remember watching you scrap with Murray in a three-hour instant classic. The next day that clay creature known as Nadal was waiting -- ready to snap that insane streak of yours. But he couldn't even squeeze a set out of you.
And this coming a week after bullying around the Spaniard on his home turf in Madrid.
Sure, there was that slight hiccup at the French Open. Hey, a 16-time Grand Slam champ (that's a record) will do that to you -- once in a while. But you rebounded so eloquently on the lush lawns of Wimbledon, where Jo-Willy and Rafa could each muster only a solitary set against you in the final two rounds. That's where you finally captured your dream.
Novak, there are a few noteworthy tournaments left into which we know you'll sink your teeth. But at this point, even lackluster outcomes won't soil a mighty season that's challenging the very best in tennis lore. All those confounding results from a guy who was the scorn of the sport seem like ages ago. You've found the precise balance of goofiness off the court and gravitas on it. You've convinced us that fitness is no longer an impediment (please note, no hyperbaric chamber jibber-jabber here). Whatever your routine is, it's proved to be a panacea to all those problems of yesterday.
You've converted me; I only wish it didn't take so long to put my faith in your profound ability to make the rest of the tour look so darn pedestrian. It took 64 times, but I now genuflect to your tennis genius. I believe.