Fed, Nole and the return (not) of the king

Novak Djokovic at the 2014 Internazionali BNL d'Italia

Novak Djokovic at the 2014 Internazionali BNL d'Italia

When I wrote the headline “Parting thoughts on the US Open,” I lied. I’m still haunted by the men’s final, in which Novak Djokovic had to play not only Roger Federer but his idolatrous status and a hostile crowd to prevail for the title.

The meme all this week has been “Where’s the love for Nole,” plumbed by many of the same publications – that means you, New York Times – that couldn’t get enough of Feddy Bear and Serena. The reaction to the reaction has been all over the place:

Nole’s robotic in his excellence, like Ivan Lendl. (See the 1980s.) He’s only loved in his native Serbia, a country that was on the wrong side of the Balkan Wars. (See the 1990s.) He got off on the wrong foot at the US Open with his medical excuses and fight with Andy Roddick. (See the Aughts.) Fans are entitled to their choices. You shouldn’t beg to be loved. And, anyway, what do you expect from a New York crowd, particularly one that recognizes Roger’s cool, elegant, balletic graciousness.


First, no one who plays with the passion of Nole – the Maria Callas of men’s tennis – should ever be compared to the dour Lendl.

Secondly, we live with the past, not in it. The Balkan Wars, Nole’s scrappy teen years on the tour – over.

Thirdly, calling Feddy balletic is an insult to dancers, who can never show effort and must create a long, beautiful line by articulating their extremities – something you cannot do wearing tennis shoes. More important, George Balanchine said, “Ballet is woman.” The male dancer – be he gay or straight – presents the ballerina. And I cannot imagine Federer ever presenting anything or anyone but himself.

If he were really gracious, he would’ve turned to the crowd and said, “Stop it. You’re disrespecting my opponent and yourself. Moreover, you’re only firing him up and putting unnecessary pressure on me.”

But no, the crowd – which, I’m sorry, was not a New York crowd but an international Fed crowd that apparently had had one too many during the three-hour rain delay – thought it could will its idol to a win, to tennis’ version of the Stuart Restoration (see the 1660s), with its boorish behavior.

It backfired. Big time.

The other memes of the week – Is the Fedovic rivalry greater than Rafanole? Will Nole be able one day to top Fed’s 17 Slams (for you know that’s what Nole has now set his heart on)? – all remain to be seen.

The players will go on. But the game of the return of the king is, I’m afraid, over.