While Djokovic keeps mum, his mother tells all over a Guinness

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After Novak Djokovic had progressed smoothly and impressively to the fourth round it was announced on his behalf that he would be happy to talk about anything except the one subject everybody wanted to ask him about - British citizenship.

Earlier, while his mum, Dijana, was sipping a Guinness at a court-side bar, she hinted that Novak might just be tempted to play tennis under the Union flag rather than the flag of Serbia.

Mrs Djokovic might have been testing the water, but the bait was swallowed all the same. "I don't want to say yes and I don't want to say no," she said. "We are trying to find the best situation for our family. We want the best conditions for our boys to play tennis in because they are all so good. We have given 10 years of our life to helping Novak. Our federation does not have the money to help us so the family has to pay. Our federation is trying, but it's not enough. Great Britain is looking for heroes and it has the money to support the kids."

The ripples all this caused prompted a clearly embarrassed Novak to declare the matter off-limits, but it just wouldn't go away. "There is nothing serious between me and the Lawn Tennis Association," he repeated, as if denying an illicit relationship.

"Every day I say the same thing. I just want to focus on the tournament. It's my favourite and the most important."

He is beginning to make his mark here. Djokovic got to the third round last year and has surpassed that, in the process disposing of the No 11 seed from Spain, Tommy Robredo, in straight sets. At 19 years and one month, he is the youngest competitor in the draw.

If it is indeed the case that a move to the United Kingdom would benefit the Djokovic family - the other talented siblings are Marko (14) and Djordje (10) - then it is obvious that Belgrade's loss would be Britain's gain. Imagine, post-Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, a Davis Cup team featuring Andrew Murray and Djokovic.

Rusedski flew the flag, and he was a Canadian. What is more, he has raised the subject, albeit in a jovial manner, with the young Serb. "The last time I saw Greg, he asked me when was I going to become British," Djokovic said.

Funnily enough, the LTA were on a similar track in Glasgow last April when Djokovic was playing in the Davis Cup, in which he won two singles in Serbia & Montenegro's 3-2 victory over Great Britain. "They were making jokes, saying things like they'd love to see me in their team," Djokovic said. As he emphasised, though, the joke is wearing thin. Under the rules, it would be three years before he could represent another country in the Davis Cup.

As it happens, Djokovic and Murray are the best of friends after first meeting as 12-year-olds at a tournament in France.

"He destroyed me 6-0 7-6," Djokovic said. "He's a great guy and I've had a lot of fun with him. He gets a lot of support from his country and sponsors and he's dealing with the pressure pretty good. I think he'll be in the top 10 pretty soon."

Some observers are saying the same of Djokovic, who recently made a breakthrough in the French Open at Roland Garros, reaching the quarter-finals in only his sixth Grand Slam event. He was forced to retire with a lower-back injury against the eventual champion, Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic anticipated meeting Mario Ancic, the seventh seed from Croatia, in tomorrow's fourth round. The two met at the US Open last year and the Serb produced an upset, though not on the scale of Ancic's antics here in 2002.

Roger Federer remembers it because it was the start of his fabulous run on grass which has been extended to 44 matches and three-and-a-half Wimbledons. Nor is the memory coated with cobwebs in the mind of Ancic, the last man not to have shaken hands with Federer on a grass court before heading for home with a resigned shrug.

This is one of Mario's greatest claims to fame. In the first round four years ago, he knocked Federer out of Wimbledon and into a courtesy car to the airport. Okay, the Swiss was young, green and he was caught cold.

Not quite. The previous year, Federer had ended Pete Sampras's 31-match winning streak with a dramatic five-set victory in the fourth round at the All England Club. Thus the defeat by Ancic was not supposed to be on the horizon.

Since then, of course, Federer has become so comfortable here he hangs his jacket over the back of his favourite chair on Centre Court; the next step will be the slippers. Actually, the "All England Club" is a bit of a misnomer. The people who tend to prosper here are anything but English, which brings us back to Djokovic.

"I feel comfortable here and the people are really nice to me," he said. "I've had a lot of support on and off the court, but I want to earn it, not get it because of the rumours about me moving to Britain."

At the moment we'll take anything we can get, but maybe Djokovic is not cut out to be a Brit after all. During his victory over Mikhail Youzhny, he was reprimanded by the umpire, who told him: "Don't speak to the ball girl like that." The Serb had yelled: "Towel!" This is not the done thing in the Home Counties.

Comments