Djokovic, Andreeva and the confidence game | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Djokovic, Andreeva and the confidence game

Jan 19, 2024 10:12 PM IST

Success in sport comes down to belief — the kind that the Serbian has and the kind that the 16-year-old Russian displayed as they made it to the 4th round

To some, 24 could be just a number. But on Novak Djokovic's heels, it is a reminder of his record-breaking victories and of his future goals. It is subtle as reminders go but at the same time, the message it sends to all those he plays is as in-your-face as it can get.

As Djokovic explained in a press conference, even when he first came on the tour, he had a big personality and was very expressive.
As Djokovic explained in a press conference, even when he first came on the tour, he had a big personality and was very expressive.

You are playing a player who will certainly be a contender for the 'greatest of all time' title and if his play won't convey this, perhaps his press conferences or his shoes will. Djokovic has never been shy of installing himself as the favourite and these days, more often than not, he finds a way to justify the tag too.

After struggling a bit in the first two rounds, the ten-time Australian Open champion hit his stride against Argentine Tomas Etcheverry, sending the 24-year-old packing 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in his 100th match at Melbourne Park. His confidence, despite the shaky start to the tournament and a scare about his wrist, was never shaken.

But that confidence has never been about the trophies he has won. Rather, it is something he always had — a belief that went beyond anything anyone could throw at him.

As he explained in the press conference after the match, even when he first came on the tour, he had a big personality and was very expressive.

"I know certainly Federer didn't like the way I was behaving. I think it didn't sit with him well. I don't know about the others," Djokovic said. "I guess I wasn't the favourite type of guy to some of the top players because I was not afraid to say that I want to be the best player in the world. I was kind of — not kind of — I was confident and had the game to back it up."

He added: "I never ever lacked respect. Whenever I start a match, before the match or after the match, I would always greet the opponent, always acknowledge. Respect is something that I was taught that needs to be present regardless of what is happening."

So how did he react to something negative being said about him?

"If the criticism came with no particular reason, then I would just keep going (in the) the kind of direction that I chose, and that's it," he said. "I knew and I know today that you can't have everyone liking you, who you are, how you play, how you behave, what you talk about. It's normal. We're all different."

But the key for Djokovic is playing the confidence game right.

"You got to believe. I am all for that," he said. "I support 100% a young player coming out on the court, like Prizmic did the other night against me... I don't dislike that at all."

These words were spoken in the evening session but earlier in the day, teenager Mirra Andreeva's mental strength stirred former world No. 1 Andy Murray into action on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The 16-year-old was in big trouble against France's Diane Parry. She was down 5-1 in the deciding set but didn't let the scoreline extinguish her will. Rather than throw the towel in, she reeled off five games in a row to leave her in a position to serve for the match at 6-5.

Parry managed to take it to the tie-break but the young Russian won 10/5 to seal a 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 win. Murray, watching on television, was inspired.

"Andreeva down 5-1 in third," he wrote on social media. "Commentator: 'she really needs to work on mental side of her game. She's too hard on herself when she's losing'. 30 minutes later 7-6 Andreeva wins.

"Maybe the reason she turned the match around is because of her mental strength," he said.

"Maybe she turned the match around because she is hard on herself and demands more of herself when she's losing/playing badly? Winner."

Andreeva was glad that Murray had watched her match. "Honestly, I will try to print it out somehow. I don't know, I will put it in a frame. I will bring it everywhere with me. I will maybe put it on the wall so I can see it every day."

But at the end of the day, victory was achieved because of belief. The kind that Djokovic had when he was starting out. The kind that Federer and Nadal had too. The kind that drives you to the very top. The kind that doesn't accept being second best.

"I don't know, just the adrenaline, the desire, the feeling that I want to win," she said of the comeback.

Sport, at any level, is about having the right goals to push you forward. For Andreeva, who currently has to contend with a restricted schedule because of her age, it may be 1 at the moment; 1 Grand Slam or becoming world No. 1 someday. For Djokovic, it may be 24 going on 25 and a date with history. To each his own.

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