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10:30AM

French win proved all too satisfying for the Joker

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The Joker, they call him, and there were times that Novak Djokovic — yes, the “D” is silent — with his skill at mimicry could make us laugh. But now, after a year when triumph was muted by disappointment, he sees life and tennis from a different view.

Once at the top, of course, as the line goes in the musical Evita, it’s a long, long way to fall. Djokovic didn’t tumble that far, but not only did he fail to win either of last two Grand Slam tournaments, after winning the previous four in succession, he dropped from the No. 1 ranking to behind Andy Murray.

Progression worked against him. A great start, an unsatisfying finish. Four straight Grand Slam victories, beginning with the 2015 Wimbledon and climaxing with the 2016 French Open, his first win there.

Satisfaction worked against him. Asked if after the French he subconsciously relaxed, Djokovic unhesitatingly answered, “Yes.”

And why not? Since the start of the Open era in tennis, April 1968, only four men had won each of the four Slams: Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Now this agile Serb had become the fifth.

“It was the crowning achievement for me,” said a candid Djokovic. “The French was a priority, but it took a lot of emotion out of me.”

He was sitting in the interview room Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open, the defending champ, seemingly relaxed, unquestionably honest — with himself and the media. It was hot outside, 91 degrees in this desert community some 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs, but inside the air conditioning was working its magic.

“Generally, I see myself in perspective from the end of last season,” said Djokovic. He will be 30 in May, and despite the struggles after the French, relatively speaking — a third-round loss at Wimbledon, a finals loss at the U.S. Open, a quick departure from the Rio Olympics — he was still considered the man to beat.

“I feel much better in terms of my game from the mental side, than I was some months ago,” he said.

The pressure never ceases, pressure to advance when you’re young, pressure to persist as you become established.

“No doubt there’s pressure,” agreed Djokovic. “It’s part of the work. It means we’re doing something that is worthy and has value.

“Something that I always dreamed of doing on such a high level. Certainly as one of the top players, one of favorites to win a Grand Slam, you put pressure on yourself.”

Until winning the French, until making history.

The years and the service returns and the forehands caught up with him. It was as if he said, “Phew. That’s over.” But in the competitive world of tennis, it’s never over until as long as you’re on the court, especially when you have a reputation to enhance.

“I don’t regret things in my life,” said Djokovic, who has won 12 Slams, fourth highest behind Federer, 18, and Nadal and Pete Sampras, 14 each.

“But maybe I should have taken a long break after the French to recharge emotionally. It didn’t happen. I just kept going.”

Not very far in results but, Djokovic said, a considerable distance in his mind.

“It was a lesson to be learned,” he said. “I think those four to five months the second part of 2016 were very important to me, for my growth as a player, as a human being.

“Particularly after the U.S. Open. Then I had those couple months where I wasn't myself on the court. Now I'm at the better place and I believe that I'm headed in the right direction."

Djokovic is in the tough part of the draw at Indian Wells, a tournament he’s won five times previously. In his bottom quarter are Federer, a four-time winner, Nadal, a two-time champ, and Nick Kyrgios.

“I haven't had too many draws like that," Djokovic said. "It's quite amazing to see that many quality players are in one quarter.”

You might say it’s no Djoke.

6:31PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Djokovic’s Grand Slam streak ends in Wimbledon loss to Querrey

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England — The great Roger Federer could see the upset coming. Even if the rest of us, and Novak Djokovic, perhaps did not.

Californian Sam Querrey defeated Djokovic, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, in four often-interrupted sets played over two days.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.

7:28AM

Wimbledon may be just what a chaotic Britain needs

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Chaos anyone? Sorry, I meant tennis anyone. Yes, another Wimbledon, with fans queuing overnight and swallowing strawberries and cream. But really not another Wimbledon.

This is the first Wimbledon after, against the best advice, Great Britain waved goodbye to logic and the rest of Europe, voting itself into isolation and, some warn, economic disaster. Brexit was the clever phrase about the not-so-clever move out of the European Union.

It’s been like threatening to leave home when you’re 13,” the novelist Howard Jacobsen wrote Sunday in the Observer about the vote. “You hope it will scare the living daylights out of your parents. But only the insane actually do it.”

So perhaps the return of the All-England Championships for a 130th time is specifically what the battered, shattered non-united kingdom needs to remind itself that all is not lost, unless like poor Englishman James Ward on Monday you had to face Novak Djokovic and were dropped 7-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

As always there is change. The newsstand next to Wimbledon’s first aid office has closed, another blow to journalism. Ah, but the shuttle cabs from Southfields station on the District Line — “Alight here Wimbledon tennis,” advises a disembodied voice — still cost two pounds, 50 pence. Even though, because of the pound’s devaluation, the dollar cost is less than it was last Friday, something like $3.23 as opposed to $3.60.

And Venus Williams, who turned 36 a week and a half ago, still plays capably, despite the years and the anti-immune syndrome from which she has suffered. On this very memorable first day, Venus, a surprisingly high eighth seed, beat Donna Vekic of Croatia, 7-6, 6-4.

“I still feel 26,” said Venus, who won women’s singles in 2000 — 16 years ago for heaven’s sake — and three other times. “I don’t know if anyone feels older. You have this infinity inside of you that feels like you could go forever. That’s how I feel on the court. As long as I can get my racquet on the ball, I think I can make something happen.”

Younger sister Serena (who will be 35 in September) is defending champion. Yet Serena, favored at the subsequent U.S. Open in an attempt to win the true "Grand Slam" or all four majors in a calendar year, was upset in the semifinals. Serena then lost in the finals of both the Australian Open in January and the French, three weeks ago.

She plays Tuesday as tradition holds: the women’s champ returning the second day, the men’s, the seemingly unbeatable Djokovic, the first day. “The first part of the match,” confirmed Djokovic of his play against Ward, “was almost flawless. So I’m very pleased with the way I started Wimbledon.”

Djokovic, of course, is from Serbia, which is waiting to be accepted into the European Union. Well, there’s an extra space now, isn’t there? One country wanted out, another wants in. Seems like a good swap, knowing the way the British majority voted.

“I’m just curious to see what the future holds for Britain and for the European Union,” said Djokovic when quizzed about the loss of money from Wimbledon due to the pound's decline. “I’m not in a position to more profoundly discuss this matter.”

Nor would he speculate on whether he can do what Serena in 2015 could not, win a Grand Slam, last accomplished by a male player by Rod Laver in 1969 — who also won all four in 1962 as an amateur.

The only other Grand Slam winner was Don Budge, in 1938. Budge, who grew up in Oakland where the courts he learned on are now named for him, wanted to be a baseball player. Joe DiMaggio, who grew up across the bay in San Francisco, told Budge he had hoped to play tennis. The second choice wasn’t bad for either.

Djokovic, 29, beginning with last year’s Wimbledon, has won the last four majors, a “Novak Slam,” if you will, but he’s still only halfway to the Grand Slam, needing victories here and in September at the U.S. Open. Serena, hesitant last summer to ruminate about her chances, is very willing to do so about Djokovic’s this summer.

"He has every opportunity to do it," she said. "I think he'll get it easy. So he should be fine."

Not to be the skeptic, but didn’t the experts predict the Brits would choose to stay in the European Union? We all make mistakes. Especially, we’re told, the British electorate.

7:30PM

Palm Springs Life: Novak Djokovic Is the Whole Package

By Art Spander
Palm Springs Life

He is the best in the game right now, No. 1 in men’s tennis, a ranking earned, not bestowed, which perhaps is the reason Novak Djokovic seems less intimidated by the position — you know the adage, nowhere to go but down — than invigorated by it.

“My thinking, my approach,” he said in response to a question of what should we expect, “is not that I have to win this, I’m supposed to win this, but I’m going to believe in myself, and I carry the confidence that has brought me to where I am at this moment.”

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2016 Desert Publications. All rights reserved.

12:11PM

Bleacher Report: No End in Sight to Novak Djokovic's Dominance After Career Year, US Open Title

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

NEW YORK — He’s a man in full flight, at the top of his game, athletic, resolute, a champion whose future is no less beautiful than his present. Novak Djokovic had a rare year in tennis, a winner of three Grand Slam tournaments, a runner-up in the fourth.

But it’s not so much what Djokovic has done—adding another U.S. Open championship to his collection of titles with his win Sunday over the man who was the gold standard of the sport, Roger Federer.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.