When Djokovic came to India with Federer and Nadal and met Bollywood stars | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

When Djokovic came to India with Federer and Nadal and met Bollywood stars

Jan 25, 2024 07:28 PM IST

As Novak Djokovic chases his 25th major at the Australian Open 2024, recalling his only trip to India

In December 2014, Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi organised the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) in Delhi. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic headlined the event.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic(AFP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic(AFP)

Make that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, given that the shoe is on the other foot now.

Back then, Federer was the game’s most successful and popular player, and therefore the No. 1 draw. But Djokovic was a proven great too. In fact, he was the world No. 1 and had established a hold over Federer and Nadal (outside of clay).

But he had yet to win the French Open. In the overall tally of major titles too, he trailed his great rivals. Djokovic had seven majors, while Federer had 17 and Nadal 14.

The IPTL, which fizzled out in three years, had a buzzy new format to widen the appeal of tennis. Matches were of one set.

The highlight of the Delhi edition was a prime-time clash between Djokovic, representing UAE Royals, and Federer, playing for Indian Aces. This reporter was on site at a raucous Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium and watched the match from a few rows behind the baseline.

What struck one about Djokovic was the deception of his backhand. It is hard to tell if he is going down the line or crosscourt.

Djokovic’s speed of movement was also evident. On one point, Federer played an exquisite inside-out forehand volley, only for Djokovic to panther across the court and flick a sharply angled backhand pass.

Federer won the match 6-5, but due to some rules one more game was played, which Djokovic won. Ultimately, Djokovic’s UAE Royals won the tie.

In the press conference I asked Djokovic about his plans for the next year’s clay season, as the French Open was his No. 1 quest at the time. He craned his neck to the left to pick me out from the room, and said with a laugh, “My problem is a guy called Nadal.” The Serb then spoke about how he planned to prepare for the French Open.

The IPTL was an eventful three days with a mix of world-class sport, some inevitable chaos and a parade of celebrities. Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Gavaskar, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone swung by.

From the tennis world, aside from the Big 3, there were Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter from an earlier era. Nick Kyrgios swaggered through the hotel lobby, disdainfully snubbing selfie-seekers and all of humanity.

A few days ago, Djokovic remembered his only India trip during an interview with Sania Mirza. Pronouncing Delhi as “Dell-hee”, he expressed a wish to return someday and conduct coaching programs for children.

“I love Indian people. They’ve always been very kind to me,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been there only once, to New Delhi for one of the exhibition matches for just a couple of days, so I wish to explore the beautiful country and be part of some (coaching) programs that include children, particularly in the early childhood development area, because that is something I’m passionate about.”

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