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The Most Dominant Athlete

Djokovic© Sports Illustrated

Iconic American sports publication Sports Illustrated has declared Novak Djokovic the most dominant athlete on the planet in their latest issue. Leading writer Scott Price journeyed to Serbia for an extensive feature with the World No. 2. Below is the opening of the story, with a link to the full feature.

Late on the afternoon that the 2011 Serbia Open began in Belgrade, Novak Djokovic sat down in a large tent for his opening press conference. He had driven onto the grounds of what will soon be his own tennis academy in a cockatoo-white $90,000 Mercedes, wearing natty brown suede shoes with tassels that dangled like stemmed cherries. He showed not the slightest sign of strain.

This was strange, because Djokovic, the former clown act of tennis who has transformed himself into the most dominant athlete of the year, had every reason to feel the world bearing down on his once-suspect psyche. Unbeaten in 2011, riding a streak that would soon have him surpass runs by greats Ivan Lendl and Björn Borg and current No. 1 Rafael Nadal (and on Sunday would reach 39 since Dec. 5), the second-ranked Djokovic was starting his clay-court season before hometown fans who expected—no, demanded—that he keep on winning. Not only that, but as the omnipresent face of a tournament owned by his 150-employee company, Family Sport, the 23-year-old Serb known nationally by his nickname, Nole, also bore almost sole responsibility for filling the seats in a country with almost 20% unemployment.

Yet in a week marked by cold and rain, by Nadal's admission that Djokovic's rise was unstoppable and by a parade of Felliniesque characters that would faze even the most jaded New York City bouncer, Djokovic never so much as rolled an eyeball. No player can prepare for all the energy-draining nonsense that gravitates, like filings to a magnet, to the newest man who would be king, but Djokovic brushed off a nagging chest cold and played to his sellout crowds, gave every minispeech with feeling, greeted each sponsor with a smile, took each question as if hearing it for the first time. In the final, against Feliciano López on May 1, he shook off the scariest fall a player has taken on court this year—and won. Seconds later a courtside wall collapsed, sending fans sprawling onto the court. Djokovic barely blinked.

In fact there was only one moment when he visibly stiffened. It came early in the pretournament press conference, on Monday, April 25, when a Dutch reporter said, "It's a lot easier to represent, say, Switzerland than Serbia. How do you see that?"

Djokovic stared. "Can you repeat the question?"

Click here to read the full story

Text reproduced with permission from Sports Illustrated.

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