As a kid, I grew up watching and closely following cricket. Little did I know what was going on in the world of tennis. All I knew was there were two players Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who monopolized the sport for quite a long stretch.
The first ever tennis match I watched was the 2007 Montreal Final that was contested between Roger Federer and another player was pretty unknown by me and my acquaintances. A person like myself who wasn’t a keen follower of the sport was surprised about the fact that the other finalist was not Rafael Nadal. I was pretty curious to know about him since it would be pretty strange not to know about one of the finalists of a big tournament. Sooner or later, I did find out about him. His name was Novak Djokovic, and he was the World No. 4. Just for the fun of it, I supported the Serbian underdog. And the way he fought with all his heart, and went on to grind out a 7-6 2-6 7-6 win against the unstoppable Swiss Roger Federer and became the first player ever to win a tournament beating the World No. 3, 2 and 1 respectively certainly won him a lot of fans, one of whom is me.
Dear Novak, you will easily be able to connect with what I am talking about. That moment was certainly a special one for you and us fans. A character like you was certainly unique at the time of your upsurge. A very funny, emotional yet extremely talented player. Among all your fellow young guns, you were certainly the centre of attraction, and rightly so. You were that one ray of hope whom everyone thought would finally stop the dominance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. You started off that mission in sensational fashion, by winning your maiden slam at the Australian Open 2008 at the age of 20 and becoming the first player other than Federer or Nadal to win a grand slam since the Australian Open 2005. After that, there was a series of disappointments for you, having to retire from quite a few big matches due to breathing problems, and consecutively falling short of big success. Until 2011, there was a lot of ambiguity about you cementing your place among the tennis greats. I myself too, was disappointed to see you lose consecutively to Federer and Nadal when it was about time you got the better of them. Then came 2011 when tennis took a sharp u-turn.
You started the season in blistering form, reigning at Melbourne, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome and rode a 41-match win streak. (defeating Roger Federer thrice and Rafael Nadal four times en route) Your streak was snapped by Federer at the Roland Garros SFs, which was one of the best matches I have witnessed. Did you stop there? Of course not. You claimed the Wimbledon and US Open titles, and subsequently ended the season as the Year-End No. 1, officially crashing the Fedal party. Some of your wins against the two left fans shell-shocked, and your status turned from a player whom Federer/Nadal fans didn’t mind supporting to someone who could not win at any cost. “Somebody, anybody stop Djokovic” was a phrase heard so often by fans, which speaks volumes about how everyone fears the dominant Djokovic.
You proved to be the symbol of tennis excellence from 2011-16, winning 11 grand slams, 25 masters 1000 titles and finishing as Year-End No. 1 four times. Although that was a period where you were super consistent, 2015-16 was the stretch where you broke umpteen records. won the elusive Roland Garros title which helped you complete the career slam and become the first non-calendar slam champion in the Open Era, and most importantly redefine the word dominance. You made the world of tennis bow down to you after that.
You have been a recipient of a lot of criticism, which I think is mainly because of how you defied the odds and cemented your place among the tennis greats in an era with players like Federer and Nadal, when no one expected you to even come close to them, although you have usurped them in quite a few categories. You are pretty quick-tempered and emotional at times, but you certainly more than compensate for all that by how graceful in defeat you are, and the things you have done off the court. So as a person, I will continue to admire you every day of the week.
I, as a fan have thoroughly enjoyed watching your matches. The comebacks you have produced, the amazing points you have played at crucial moments of matches have made me get off my couch and rejoice umpteen times. Your celebrations are a sight for lack of inspiration, and I have found that happen to me many times. Every time I am down, I think of a role model like you, and how you overcame the odds.
Now that you have been struggling mentally and physically for quite some time, and have decided to sit out for the remainder of the season, you will be mocked by the haters, who lived to see something like this happen to you considering the way you bullied the tour for a neat period of time. But I can assure you, tennis is certainly lucky to have a character like you, and you will be missed by me for the next 3 months of action. I will certainly not stop watching tennis, but I will not find myself pouring a lot of emotions into the sport during your absence.
Nole, I wish you good luck for your speedy recovery and would like to congratulate you in advance on the arrival of your second child. I hope you come back refreshed, physically and mentally and I would really love to see you pull off another stellar season or two and engrave your name officially among the tennis greats.
No matter what happens, I will always show my unrelenting support to you, and you will forever be my idol, inspiration, role model and so on.
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