Davis Cup Demonstrates Again Djokovic’s Unique Resilience

Novak Djokovic in action at hte Davis Cup.

There are many reasons to dislike the new Davis Cup. Its scheduling at the end of the season inevitably means that many of the best male players do not take part, either through injury or exhaustion; its near invisibility as an event, including minimal broadcast coverage even in major European markets, renders any claim that it is “The World Cup of Tennis” risible; and its absurd scheduling means that the winner of today’s semifinal between Croatia and Serbia will have a crucial day’s rest before Sunday’s final, unlike the winner of tomorrow’s semi-final between the Russian Tennis Federation (aka Russia) and Germany. And that is without even considering next year’s move to the Middle East. But one reason to love it is that it has provided yet another demonstration of Novak Djokovic’s unique resilience.

After the considerable if not crushing disappointment of failing to win the Calendar Slam in New York in September, Djokovic would have been almost universally forgiven if he had simply taken the rest of 2021 off in preparation for the 2022 season, when he will hope to win at least one more Major to break the three-way tie between himself and the other members of The Big Three, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, on 20 Majors, to prove himself – statistically at least – the greatest male tennis player of all time.

Instead, after a month or so of licking his wounds, which included missing the rescheduled Indian Wells Masters in October, he returned to the court and to something like his irresistible best. First, he won the Paris Masters, the final Masters event of the year, in early November. In doing so, he not only exacted a modicum of revenge over his conqueror in New York, Daniil Medvedev, by beating him in the final, but broke the two-way tie with Nadal for most Masters titles by winning his 37th Masters title in total.

Then, after what has become of late an annual end-of-season stumble at the ATP Finals in Turin (not having won the event since 2015, he lost in the semifinals this year to Alexander Zverev), Djokovic regrouped yet again, this time not for personal glory (or at least not purely for personal glory) by leading his country, Serbia, to the semifinals of the Davis Cup, where today they will face local rivals Croatia for a place in the final.

Of course, Djokovic and the Davis Cup have a lot of history together. Arguably, it was his leading Serbia to their first (and so far only) Davis Cup win in 2010, alongside the almost contemporaneous diagnosis of his gluten intolerance, that laid the groundwork the biggest breakthrough of his career. Those two events immediately spurred him on to his remarkable 2011 season, when he won three of the four Majors (having only won one Major in total before, the 2008 Australian Open), and the decade of near-total domination (or djomination) of men’s tennis that has followed.

Djokovic and Serbia may not have won the Davis Cup again since 2010, but they reached the final in 2013 (losing narrowly to the Czech Republic in Belgrade) and they also won the inaugural ATP Cup, the latest men’s team tennis event, in Australia at the start of 2020 (that faraway time before the coronavirus pandemic began). Clearly, representing his country means an enormous amount to the Serb, and that has been evident again over the last week, in which he has played both singles and doubles in the Davis Cup. He has won all three of his singles matches in straight sets and only narrowly lost one of his two doubles matches, when he and Nikola Ćaćić ultimately succumbed 6-7 6-3 6-7 to the far more experienced and established German pairing of Kevin Krawietz and Tim Pütz.

The suspicion remains that it might be the doubles match that again proves the undoing for Djokovic and Serbia in their semi-final against Croatia, because if it goes to that crucial third rubber Ćaćić and Djokovic would face yet another of the world’s greatest doubles pairings – indeed, arguably the greatest men’s doubles pairing of recent years – in Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić. Nevertheless, if anyone is capable of rising to such a challenge and winning both a singles match and a doubles match in a Davis Cup semi-final, it is surely Novak Djokovic.

All of which makes the Great Serb’s “probable” absence from next month’s Australian Open, according to his father Srjdan when he was interviewed on Serbian TV last weekend, all the more bewildering. Having overcome so much not only in his tennis career but in his whole life, from surviving the NATO bombing of Belgrade when he was a child to breaking the Federer-Nadal duopoly of men’s tennis as an adult to possibly leading his country to a second Davis Cup title just a few months after losing his chance to win a Calendar Slam, Novak Djokovic has proved himself to be remarkably resilient, a true “Man of Rubber”, who can seemingly bounce back from anything.

Consequently, other than his possibly suffering from a severe aversion or allergy to needles, which would surely be enough to gain him a medical exemption, there can be no logical explanation for his refusing to get vaccinated in time to try and win a 10th Australian Open title and 21st Major in total in just over a month’s time. That is why, whatever happens in the Davis Cup, he should surely reconsider and get jabbed or secure a medical exemption, in order to give himself the best chance of achieving a truly historic triumph in Melbourne.

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