Djokovic celebrity status faces new challenges


World number one Novak Djokovic may be entering new territory when he competes at this week’s Dubai Open, his first tournament since his Australian Open triumph last month. Though Djokovic has won the Aussie title twice before, he has never previously received the level of celebrity which has been bestowed on him.
The Serbian has received his country’s top state honour, the Order of the Karadjordje’s Star of the 1st degree, from its president Boris Tadic. Djokovic also attended an unveiling of his own likeness in wax at the central Serbian town of Jagodina. And he has received the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award in London. The following day Djokovic was back in Belgrade, reportedly stressing that he is happy to represent Serbia “in a most beautiful way”, after the “undeserved negative publicity it has had in recent years”. It all suggests that Djokovic is facing different challenges, off-court ones similar to those to which Roger Federer, the winner of a record number of Grand Slams, had for several years. Djokovic’s ability to cope with that, as well as with the fitness and competitive issues he has dealt with so superbly in the last 12 months, may influence how successful he is next week and throughout 2012.
A sign of his profound awareness of all this is that he has avoided all competitive tennis during the past four weeks, including Serbia’s Davis Cup tie against Sweden in Nis. “I’ll be with my team mates with all my heart, but I won’t go to Nis, because I plan something I haven’t done in seven years – go skiing with friends on Kopaonik,” Djokovic said, referring to Serbia’s top ski resort.
The success of such relaxation may well play a significant part in Djokovic’s ability to continue his sensational level of success during an Olympic year which will present more challenges than any before. “I’m full of positive ambition, but it is early for us to realize what we have been through,” he commented during one of his post-final press conferences in Australia. “I was barely on my feet standing in the final set.” Djokovic also admitted that he is still learning how best to organize himself, how to control his emotions on and off the court, and how better to express himself to become an even more complete player.
The extent of these talents, and the completeness of his recovery, may be revealed if he were to meet Federer in next Saturday’s final, as the seedings suggest. If Djokovic wins the Dubai Open again it will be a record fourth title in a row.
The 30-year-old Federer, who has just announced that he hopes to continue competing till the Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, has won four titles too but may want be to atone for last year’s final. Then he was overwhelmed by Djokovic, winning only six games, an early sign of the startling dominance which the Serb was about to impose upon the 2011 tour. However in a field which contains eight of the world’s top ten players, neither legend can be sure of making the final again Djokovic has a likely semi-final with Andy Murray, the Scot who took him to a five-set semi of almost five hours in Australia, while Federer should play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Frenchman who became the first player to beat him from two sets down, at Wimbledon seven months ago.