Tennis Prose



I See Muhammad Ali Qualities in Novak Djokovic

No great tennis champion has ever been able to entertain and dazzle the audience with his exceptional tennis skills AND sense of humor like Novak Djokovic.

The amazing Serbian could make a packed stadium roar with laughter with his antics and imitations, as he did at the U.S. Open a couple of years ago on Ashe Stadium twice.

Only one other great champion in all of sports had this special attribute to entertain a crowd with his world class athleticism and comedic sense of humor – Muhammad Ali.

Similar to the “The Greatest”, when the young Djokovic burst on to the world stage, his free-spirted ways stirred controversy among many fans, the media and peers. Feathers were ruffled by the Djokovic personality which was a little bit too cocky for the traditionalists to embrace at first. Players like Roddick, Federer, Nadal and others were not pleased by the flashy ways of their new rival who in some ways overshadowed their own talents and achievements.

We can only imagine how many more hilarious episodes Djokovic could have created had his comedic personality been encouraged and not discouraged.

Now after winning the Davis Cup and his second grand slam major event in Melbourne, Australia, the world knows Novak Djokovic is not a fluke or a flash in the pan, one hit wonder.

He is a great young champion with a special charisma and phenomenal talent who can help promote and transcend the sport of tennis – much like the beloved Muhammad Ali was able to do for professional boxing.

Recently, for a boxing project, I asked Angelo Dundee what his first memories of Ali were?

“I first met Ali when he was an amateur in 1959. I used to go to Louisville with my fighters – Jimmy Beecham, Luis Rodriguez, Willie Pastrano. In fact, the biggest draw in Louisville was Willie Pastrano. And Willie fought Alonzo Johnson. That’s when I met Muhammad. Muhammad called me from the hotel lobby…’This is Cassius Marcellus Clay. I’m the Golden Gloves champ of Louisville. I won the Gloves in Chicago, I won the Gloves in Seattle. And I want to talk with you.’ I said to Willie, ‘If the guy is some nut downstairs and if you want to let him come up and talk with us?’ And Willie said, ‘Ehh, well the TV stinks. Let him come up.’ And Muhammad came up. Very interesting young man. Kid wanted to know about how my fighters train, how they ran. Because he said he watched me a lot on TV. I had a lot of TV fighters back then in those days. It was a ton of fun. He was a student of boxing. He wanted to know the intricate things about it. I worked with the kid. Showed him the do’s and don’ts. Naturally, he had his own ideas and conceptions on what should be done. But I sort of gave him some advice. That was the first time I met him. And when my fighters would come back to Louisville, he would look them up. A lot of times I wouldn’t be with them. Like Luis Rodriguez would fight in Louisville. Muhammad would go in there and come into the fight with Luis. He grew to love Luis. Because Muhammad got to like all my guys. My guys were easy to like, ’cause they’re good kids. You’ll find out something, by the way, 99% of fighters are good kids. Because of the life they’ve got to lead. It’s a tough life. And nobody has bigger respect for the fistic guys than me. ‘Cause I appreciate what they’ve got to go through.”

Last year I read a feature about Djokovic in the New York Times during the U.S. Open where young Novak’s first coach Jelena Gencic, like Dundee, immediately sensed the genius in the young boy and informed the Djokovic parents, “You have a golden child.”

(Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston sculpture created by artist Barrymore Alan Moton.)

1 comment

  • Peter · February 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Great article



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