WITH his daughter Tara born a day after Serena Williams gave birth to her first child Alexis Olympia last September, Novak Djokovic has been trading parenting tips with the American.
However, when he was asked if it’s easier to be a tennis-playing father than a continent-hopping mother on the professional tour, the Serb’s jaw appeared to hit the floor.
With an incredulous look that seemed to suggest “you cannot be serious”, Djokovic remained mum for several seconds.
But with an expectant audience still waiting for an answer, father-of-two Djokovic finally broke the pregnant pause.
“Well, I think it’s obvious. I mean, what a woman has to go through, with the pregnancy and birth and then everything after that? I’m sorry to all the guys, but it’s much more difficult for a woman,” Djokovic told reporters after cruising into the French Open third round on Wednesday.
“So that’s why it makes it even more impressive when they make a comeback, and especially Serena after all she has done,” added the Serb, one of a dozen fathers to have claimed grand slam titles since 1980.
Over the same period of time, only Kim Clijsters has managed to win majors after returning from a maternity break.
But while Clijsters had won only one of her four majors before giving birth to daughter Jada in 2008, Williams had claimed 23 grand slam titles. Many believe she could have easily called it quits after becoming a mother as she has already cemented her place among the all-time sporting greats. But rather than walking away from tennis, Williams, who won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, is making her grand slam comeback at Roland Garros this week.
“It’s not like she never won a slam and then now she wants to come back because she has something to achieve from that perspective,” added the 31-year-old Djokovic, who was photographed cradling a beaming Alexis Olympia on the eight-month-old’s Twitter feed.
“After all she has achieved in sport to see her back and putting hours on the court and work and again and again, it’s impressive. It’s inspiring. It really is.
“She’s the greatest female athlete of all time, probably, and she keeps on coming back and inspiring everyone.
“She uses tennis as a platform to do good things and that’s why she’s back. You can see how much she loves it.
“I love Serena. All the superlatives and beautiful words that you can think of she deserves it.”
DOUBLE-TAKE AT AUDACIOUS 30-YEAR FIRST
A young American man tried an underhand serve while cramping during a five-setter at the French Open. Hmm. Seen that before, haven’t we?
Except there was one key difference this time: For 21-year-old Jared Donaldson against No. 4-seed Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday, unlike for 17-year-old — and eventual tournament champion — Michael Chang against Ivan Lendl in 1989, the unorthodox strategy didn’t come in a victory.
Dimitrov came back to beat the 57th-ranked Donaldson 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 4-6 6-4, 10-8 in a second-round match that lasted four hours and 19 minutes on the new Court 18 at Roland Garros. The most memorable aspect was Donaldson’s two unusual service motions; he won the point the first time, but not the other.
“I would never try it if I was feeling 100 per cent and stuff,” said Donaldson, who could barely move by the end because of painful cramps in his legs. “But obviously Grigor was playing so far back on the return that I felt like, ‘You know, maybe it’s just something that I’ll try.’ He obviously wasn’t expecting it, you know what I mean? It’s kind of a cheeky way to get a point.”
Donaldson said he has never seen footage of what Chang did 29 years ago. He did, however, know of the episode: Chang used an underhand serve while cramping during a fourth-round win over Lendl on the way to the French Open title; he remains the youngest man to win a major singles championship.
Dimitrov was not angered by the tactic. Quite the opposite, actually, shrugging his shoulders and conceding it was smart for Donaldson to try it.
“It was beautiful, right?” Dimitrov said. “He wanted to use something different to kind of try to put me off guard.”
Before his first underhand attempt, Donaldson was actually two points from the victory, leading 6-5 in the fifth set and at love-30 on Dimitrov’s serve. But Dimitrov took the next four points.
In the next game, at six-all, 40-30, Donaldson successfully used the underhand motion. He hit a short serve that two-time grand slam semi-finalist Dimitrov returned long to allow Donaldson to hold.
After Dimitrov broke to lead 8-7 and serve for the victory, Donaldson broke right back.
In the next game, though, Donaldson could barely stand, let alone run. He double-faulted.
Then he tried his second underhand serve, dropping the point. Dimitrov hit a winner to break for a 9-8 lead, Donaldson slowly limped to the sideline for the changeover and, soon enough, it was over.
“It wasn’t that I was tired or anything,” Donaldson said. “It was just my leg muscles had reached their limit, basically.”
Donaldson tried to refresh himself any way he could, popping open what looked like a soft drink of sorts (although we really hope it was a beer) during the match.
After the final point, Dimitrov leaned forward while raising each knee to give it a kiss — thanking his own legs for carrying him to the win while Donaldson’s gave way.
“I had quite a little bit left in the tank, so that was great,” said Dimitrov, who equalled his best French Open showing by reaching the third round. “And I think it meant a lot to the whole team, but especially to my fitness guy … It’s great to win a match in five sets. I think it stays with you. You keep it.”
ZVEREV FALLS IN LOVE WITH ACCENT
German second seed Alexander Zverev came back from two sets to one down to reach the French Open third round on Wednesday — only to be defeated by a broad Yorkshire accent.
Zverev beat Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 2-6 7-5 4-6 6-1 6-2 to continue his bid to become the first German man to take the title in Paris since 1937.
But the 21-year-old, who also speaks fluent English and Russian, was mystified when a reporter from the northern English county of Yorkshire wanted to know what it would take for him to finally win a grand slam.
“Where you from buddy?,” asked Zverev to the stunned journalist. “Yorkshire,” replied his inquisitor.
“Nice. If they ever make a tournament there I’m coming just because of that accent.
“Love it. I didn’t understand a word you’re saying.”
The exchange lightened the mood for Zverev who is becoming increasingly impatient of being asked when he will make a breakthrough at the majors to match his impressive efforts on the ATP Tour.
He has a year-leading 32 wins and arrived in Paris with clay-court titles in Munich and Madrid and a runners-up finish to Rafael Nadal in Rome.
But the slams are a different story.
His best is a run to the last 16 at Wimbledon in 2017, just a few weeks after he was dumped out of Roland Garros in the first round.
He was defeated in the third round at the Australian Open in January by South Korea’s Chung Hyeon.
“Everybody tries to make a bigger story out of it than it is,” said Zverev who has now equalled his best run in Paris by making the third round.
“I have had great success on the ATP Tour, won three Masters, made two other finals this year. I’m not worried. I know if I’m doing the right things and if I do the right work I’ll win those long matches, and the success will come itself.”
He also recalled a morale-boosting conversation with Roger Federer at the Australian Open after he lost to Chung.
Federer, the record 20-time major winner, reminded him that it took him until he was into his 20s to get past the quarter-finals of a major.
Up to that point, an underachieving Federer faced the same barrage of questions that Zverev is batting back now.
“Hearing that from the greatest player of all time is, you know, comforting, because you always think, ‘Oh, if I’m not going to win this one, I’m never going to win one.’ And he’s the greatest player of all time,” Zverev said.
Next up for the tall German in Paris is a third-round clash against Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur, the 26th seed, for a place in the last 16.