OK, true story: Several weeks ago during the French Open, I had a dream in which I saw Novak Djokovic – dressed in blazing white, legs spread in typical Nole-Gumby fashion – leaning forward on a grass court, butt up in the air as he drew a white line on the green with his racket and wept.
“My God,” I thought to myself, “he’s going to win Wimbledon this year.”
Which he did, defeating Roger Federer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 in the battle of the fertile male tennis titans. (Feddy and wife Mirka recently welcomed their second set of twins, while Nole and fiancée Jelena Ristic are expecting their first child this fall. So they have a bit of catching up to do in that tournament.)
It was no easy victory, but then for our dear Nole (pronounced "no-LAY"), it never is, is it? He’s very smart, and that can sometimes be a person’s undoing. In the fourth set, he unraveled, and many thought that he would lose his fourth Slam final in a row. But somehow, somewhere during a break, Nole went deep inside himself and found the guts to win. And sometimes in life that’s the best you can do – still yourself, go deep and ask, What am I really made of? The answer is usually, Something pretty heroic.
“The most special Grand Slam final I’ve played,” said Nole, who tied John McEnroe and Mats Wilander for eighth place on the list of most Slam titles (seven) and regained the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. “At the time in my career, for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row. I started doubting, of course, a little bit. I needed this win a lot.”
I needed it, too, though I can’t understand why. We are such strange creatures, identifying with athletes we don’t even know. But I suppose it’s our way of understanding that if there’s someone else out there who can climb out of his valley of doubt, we can come through ours as well.
This is some tennis aficionados’ favorite rivalry. For me, it will never equal the passion of Rafanole, in part because Feddy seems so aloof from his rivals, particularly Nole, who, truth be told, got off on the wrong foot with FedEx at the beginning of his career. But with 17 Slam titles – the most of any man to date – and four kids, Fed was philosophical in defeat. He knows he has nothing to prove and what really matters.
“It’s even more memorable when I see my kids there with my wife and everything,” he said. “That’s what touched me the most, to be quite honest. The disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly.”
In its place was daddy joy – an emotion that Nole will discover when Baby Nole arrives.