It got him then, right there where he stood, surrounded by a team of those he loved, and the effect was instantaneous, sending him down and to the floor where he lay and wept openly as the world looked on from the camera above.
An often polarising figure, Novak Djokovic has never found it difficult to be open with his opinions and thoughts but this here and now, in the shadow of his 22nd major title and ascension back to the world number 1 position, was a peeling back of the skin to show the heart that beats and tries and tires and cares beneath the surface of a man frequently described as an undeniable forever-there of a player.
This reaction was not altogether unexpected. Djokovic’s tears reflect back a year and more, taking into account his deportation from Australia at the start of 2022 and further back still into his at times frosty relationship with the media throughout the pandemic that threatened to skew his portrayal from less of a misunderstood individual into a more villainous anti-hero. Now though, his emotions continued to fall when he was back sitting courtside as he struggled to contain all that he was feeling, his towel marked with a damp map of the journey he’s been on. Lost opportunities and future possibilities will leave you grieving just a little even in victory.
I don’t believe Djokovic has gone about everything over the last few years in the ways that he should have done. At times, I’ve been frustrated with his attitude and refusal to switch things around so that tennis could be the primary focal point of his life. But in my inner-conflict, my love for him grew because my god, I adore my messy protagonists, those ones that leave you questioning desperately to the heavens as to why they are the way that they are but knowing deep down that if they weren’t, if they changed even for a moment, even for a second, they’d lose the thing that makes them go. It’s that refusal to cave even when you think that they should that keeps you coming back with an eye-roll and slight smile of annoyed acceptance. I need my players to irritate me to no end and to have me wondering why I even bother sometimes. I want them to shake my head for me in disappointment and then have me forget it all in a moment of their genius. I want them to send me to bed telling myself that I’m done with them, only to have me getting up the next day praying that they’ve won. I need flawed brilliance and dented perfection. I’d implore you to try disagreeing with your favourites once in a while. It’s fun, I promise!
In any case, Djokovic’s abilities seemingly know no earthly boundaries whether you like him or not. He seems monstrously content with weathering storms both on and off the court, gazing up at the thunder and lightning dark with a confidence ready, as though poised to climb right up there among them if he needs to. And he has needed to, so many many times to sort out issues in his tennis and his personal life, rewiring the sky to give himself a bit more sunlight to work with. And in the end, the man so well known for laughing in the rain finds himself in tears now when the clouds have washed themselves gone.
To see Djokovic succeed here again, in a place that represents many career highlights and one of his very biggest career lowlights, demonstrates a mental ability to move on when so many are still desperate to remind him of his past. It bookends a year that had victory for him and many of them but felt tied to its opening chapter of visa issues and vaccine statuses. This win felt cathartic, shaking him to his knees with a distinct gratifying heaviness that can only really be defined as a promise to step forwards from all of this.
I feel Djokovic needed this tournament. To see him get it is a reminder that while writers of history may fall at times, their pens so very rarely quiver.