THOMAS LOVELOCK/AFP/Getty ImagesWimbledon Men's and Women's singles champions Novak Djokovic (R) and Serena Williams dancing on stage at the Champions Dinner in central London.
It was an unexpected way for Wimbledon to end: with the two victorious players gyrating on stage at London’s historic Guildhall to the strains of the Bee Gees’ Night Fever.
“It’s a tradition that had been a little bit forgotten,” said Novak Djokovic, with his characteristic feel for tennis history. And he was right, for what was once the Champions’ Ball was renamed the Champions’ Dinner as long ago as 1977. Until Sunday night, the idea of two newly-crowned players gliding across the dance floor had seemed as out of date as wooden rackets, mullet hairstyles and tiny shorts.
If the celebration was a surprise, the identity of the respective champions was not. Serena Williams has just won her eighth grand slam title from 13 attempts, while Djokovic’s note-perfect display against Roger Federer on Sunday took his tally to three from the past five.
When was the last time that two players had the sport in such an armlock? You probably have to go back to 1969 and the Australian pairing of Rod Laver and Margaret Court, who won seven of the eight majors that year.
While Williams now looks nailed on to equal and probably overtake Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 grand slam titles, the former professionals were musing on Sunday night about Djokovic’s chances of making a similar challenge of his own. Greg Rusedski predicted another five or six majors, and Mats Wilander went further still, suggesting eight or 10. That would take Djokovic past Federer and make him, statistically speaking, the greatest of all time.
“I don’t want to say, it’s too early to talk about it,” Djokovic said, when this possibility was put to him Monday in the All England Club’s interview room. “It’s probably the right time to talk about it, but I am still far, far away from that, it’s still a long way ahead. Winning one grand slam — I know what it takes, it’s a lot of effort, a lot of things have to come together, so to reach these two guys (Federer and Rafael Nadal) would be something incredible. But, honestly, I am not thinking about it now.”
Djokovic is always unfailingly modest on these occasions, talking up the qualities and achievements of his more feted predecessors. He is careful to avoid triumphalism — and yet there is much for him to feel triumphant about, including the unprecedented feat of beating Nadal in Paris and Federer at Wimbledon in the same summer. “That is a great achievement, now that you mention it,” he said, when this point was brought up yesterday. “I didn’t think about it, but it feels pretty good. It’s probably an ultimate challenge to win against those two guys on their most preferred surfaces.”
And then there is the way Djokovic surged back from the frustration of his latest near-miss at Roland Garros. It is only a few weeks since the four-set defeat by Stan Wawrinka that left him holding the runner-up trophy in Paris for a second successive year, and then fixating on the one infuriating gap in his otherwise overflowing trophy cabinet.
AP Photo/Alastair GrantNovak Djokovic is always unfailingly modest on these occasions, talking up the qualities and achievements of his more feted predecessors.
“Considering where I was in my state of mind three or four weeks ago, it’s pretty amazing to be here with you today as the Wimbledon champion, because I’ve managed to overcome that huge challenge once again,” he said. “I was just mentally very disappointed, down on myself, and I didn’t know how far that feeling would stay with me, and how long I will feel the traces of Roland Garros. But Wimbledon was just around the corner, so I had to leave that behind and find myself on the court with a new opportunity to win a grand slam.”
Even if we forget the broader picture for a moment and just look at Wimbledon, Djokovic’s third title here puts him in exalted company, equal fourth in the Open era behind only Federer, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg. This is an astonishing statistic for a man whose movement on grass has often been said to fall short of his mind-boggling court coverage on the other two surfaces. Djokovic himself reckons: “Everything on the grass happens very fast, but in the last five years I think I’ve improved a lot and I would definitely now rate it with hard courts as my most successful surface.”
Yet, if much of the game is contested on the court, even more is played in the mind. It was Djokovic’s ability to deliver on the biggest points that his coach Boris Becker — himself, a three-time Wimbledon champion — celebrated.
“He’s a tough cookie,” Becker said. “I call him a street fighter. When the going gets tough, he gets better. When he bleeds a little bit, he goes forward. That’s his trademark.
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesSerena Williams now looks nailed on to equal and probably overtake Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 grand slam titles.
“At the beginning of the third set, that was the crucial moment when both had break points. That’s when matches are decided and Novak feels it, he smells it, understands it, when you have to go all in. It can’t always work but at least you have no regrets afterwards. That’s when he took the match away from Roger.”
Since his shock appointment as Djokovic’s head coach 18 months ago, Becker has clearly helped his new charge to relish the struggle. It was noticeable how businesslike Djokovic was in his body language on Sunday, in contrast to previous major finals where he has projected everything from despair to fury or physical exhaustion. And then there was the very different body language of the dance at the Guildhall, the Champions’ Dinner venue. Becker was a factor here too, as Djokovic explained yesterday.
“I suggested the idea to (All England Club chairman) Philip Brook and to Serena and fortunately they accepted it,” he said. “Boris told me that he had a dance with Navratilova when they both won in 1985, but after that there was no dancing. I was very pleased, because Serena is a great dancer.
“I was thinking more of a waltz, something sophisticated, that would blend into the environment of the beautiful hall where we had the dinner. But Serena wanted to move a little bit more, so then we considered other options. And Night Fever came to life.”
Their two-minute boogie may have been no more than the warm-up act. Do not be surprised if this pair of untouchable world-beaters keep dancing for many more slams to come.