Novak Djokovic revels in a Dream Team experience
As one multiple Grand Slam champion departs the game this weekend at Laver Cup, another makes his return.
While Roger Federer contests the final match of his career Friday night in doubles at The O2 in London, Novak Djokovic competes for the first time since Wimbledon in July.
Battling for the biggest titles in the sport with the likes of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the last 15 years, the Serb now joins forces with the trio — as well as Grand Slam finalists Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini — as part of a powerful Team Europe.
The term “Dream Team” wouldn’t look out of place.
Djokovic recalls his first outing at Laver Cup Chicago in 2018 with fondness, despite falling short in both of his outings.
“Laver Cup gives you this unique opportunity to be with your rivals in the team and train with them, spend quality time on and off the court with them, have team dinners,” Djokovic says.
“It is strange in a way, but in a positive and exciting way, because we all share the tour, share the stage for so many years and as individual athletes have our own teams. We want to beat each other on the court.
“But these four, five days, we’re together and support each other, and passionately. I think playing with Roger on the court and supporting all other teammates from Team Europe during three days was something I will probably remember for a long time.”
Djokovic indeed graced the stage with Federer, and one particular sequence might live long in Laver Cup memory.
Renowned for his pinpoint accuracy — one of the reasons he has amassed 21 Grand Slam titles — Djokovic was outdone by a powerful return down the middle from Jack Sock early in the first set.
Deprived of time due to the American’s strike, his forehand inadvertently struck Federer in the lower back. Federer was fine and the pair laughed when the point ended, before conversing at the change of ends.
“I didn’t mishit the forehand but I was very late,” Djokovic says light-heartedly. “Roger was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was funny. You could hear the crowd laughing, a bit concerned about Roger’s back, but then once he showed that everything was okay, we all had a big laugh.
“So I’m hoping I won’t be hitting my partners on the doubles court anymore.”
Odds are that Djokovic won’t deliver an encore in that respect but one thing he will be doing is rooting on his fellow Team Europe performers.
“It feels like you’re playing four matches a day, because even when you’re not playing, you are courtside supporting your teammates and living through every single point played with them,” said Djokovic. “So you do feel very engaged.”
When asked if Team Europe’s haul of 66 Grand Slam titles inspires or intimidates him, Djokovic replies with a smile: “I don’t know.”
“Ask Team World how they feel about it,” he continues. “Of course I’m surprised. I’m very glad and honored to be part of this team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
If the English capital has proved to be a fruitful locale for Federer, the same can be said for Djokovic, who landed a seventh title at Wimbledon by defeating former Team World regular Nick Kyrgios in July. Djokovic has claimed four of his five year-end trophies at The O2.
“This year has been quite a roller coaster year for me with everything happening off the court but Wimbledon is always there for me, in a way, as a tournament that brings back my confidence and just allows me to feel myself on the court,” says Djokovic, who attended the wedding of his younger brother Djordje earlier in September.
“And also The O2 Arena. It’s one of the most stunning tennis venues we had in the last decades. Packed stadiums for both singles and doubles every day. London is a tennis city. It respects, acknowledges and nurtures tennis traditions and cultures.”