I missed Novak Djokovic playing Juan Martin del Potro in the Olympics last night, but I got around to watching it this evening and I have a lot of feelings about it. That’s a warning for those of you who don’t care about tennis or the Olympics or my feelings. Go ahead and skip this one.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a few years, you know I have a soft spot for the magic that happens when Djokovic and del Potro play tennis.
They did it again. They showed us what love looks like on a tennis court. If the only way we had to show love was to play tennis, these two would be the world’s Romeo and Juliet. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.
I knew the outcome before I watched, but I don’t watch these two to see the result. It’s the moments inside the game that I love with them. Their obvious friendship makes their matches completely entertaining. I never know who to root for. So whatever, I am just rooting for the two of them to have a good game. I am enjoying every volley. I think they are, too. That’s why it’s so fun to watch.
Juan Martin del Potro is a player with a huge heart. He leaves it on the court every time he plays. Nole is tightly coiled, the calculating machine who sees all the angles and plays smart. But del Potro brings out the heart in him. And Nole brings out the big plays in Delpo.
And they’re sweet with each other. Make no mistake, they are fierce competitors. But they smile a lot, laugh a bit, and hug hard at the end. This isn’t just the sportsmanship that the Olympics brings out in everyone, though sure, maybe that’s part of it. It’s the sportsmanship these two men always bring out in one another.
The first good hit that flies past him, Djokovic gives del Potro a thumbs up. It was a beautiful shot, perfectly executed. Nole knew it. Delpo did, too. Novak is gracious with Juan Martin in a way he isn’t with anyone else.
A nice crosscourt forehand, and Djokovic applauds with his head down, a little bit of deference for the beauty he just witnessed and became a victim of. When someone is beating you at the game you’re the best in the world at, but they’re doing it so balletically, it’s hard not to enjoy it just a little.
They’re only technically playing against each other. Whenever they face off, it feels more like they’re playing with each other. Or at least they play with a little window open to one another, where most tennis matches feel like the net is a wall both players are constructing.
At one point, the crowd starts cheering for Nole and DelPo eggs them on. They share a little smirk. Del Potro claps for him, smiles. Novak claps back and looks around like he can’t believe he’s in this moment. They’re both enjoying the atmosphere, not in the least annoyed or letting it get them off their game. It must be fun to play in a rowdy arena when the big games are usually at stuffy stands full of men in linen eating strawberries and trying to look more dapper than the next guy.
And when it was all over and del Potro had won, they embraced each other at the net. You could see Nole say something to him, and DelPo sort of crumpled into his shoulder. Later, he said only that, “He told me really kind words at the end.” Whatever it was Novak said to him, I’m certain it was some version of I love you. Maybe not those three words, but the meaning behind them.