Novak Djokovic is fast developing one of the best ranges of facial expressions in the business. There’s the wide-eyed ‘I can’t believe I did that’ look. There’s the cheeky ‘I know I’m good at this’ grin. There’s the focused and determined ‘I’m unbeatable stare.’ But this afternoon, at his defending champion's press conference, he came up with a new one, hands over his mouth as he contorted his face into a look that embodied disbelief, shock and horror. It was almost a ‘I just don’t understand you’ gaze. The occupational hazard of the travelling tennis player in a room full of journalists, one supposes.
But whatever question it was that so perturbed the world No.1, on the whole, he was his usual calm, contained and charming self. Chirpy and cheerful as he sat in front of the world’s tennis press, he may not be appearing here at The Championships having lost just one tennis match this year, as he was last year. But he has only lost six. And, he revealed, he feels more at home here at SW19 than ever.
“I’m playing with more self-belief on this surface,” Djokovic said, decked out in a white top with purple and green trimming, a hot-off-the-mark move from new clothing sponsor Uniqlo.
“I realised my dreams last year. I played a perfect tournament. I like the conditions here. I’ve been in several locations in semi-finals, so I’m confident before the start of 2012.”
Just as he did in 2011, although this year was more by design than accident, Djokovic hasn’t played a grass court warm-up event, completing just one match on green turf, against Andy Murray at The Boodles in Stoke Park last week. But that also doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I’m feeling great on the court, and that’s what matters the most for me,” he said. “I’m focusing on my next tournament."
The fact that Rafael Nadal is nipping at his world No.1-ranking heels isn’t perturbing him either, nor that Roger Federer has his every fibre set on a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title.
“Rankings are following up all the results the good success that you achieve as a player, I think. If you worry too much about calculations, you’re going to lose that necessary focus on the court.
“Playing against both of them [Federer and Nadal] made me a better player. Just competing at this top level, I was going through a lot of emotions. I was going through the years of doubting if I can really win more Grand Slams, overcome the challenges of Nadal and Federer at the later stages of major events. I managed to do that.
“They made me a better player and made me understand what I need to do on the court and off the court as well.”
Wise words, from an increasingly wise young man. For the Djokovic that strides around the All England Club in 2012 is a titan to the somewhat ganglier version of himself who retired from this tournament five years ago.
This Djokovic came within two sets of achieving what would have been one of the most remarkable feats of modern men’s tennis, a consecutive run of the four Grand Slam titles. Does the fact that he didn’t achieve it keep him awake at night? No, he says.
“It’s behind me now,” he said, pausing for a second’s slither. “Yes, I was so close. But the day after I felt good about my tournament, about my achievement in Paris. It was the first time I ever have been in the finals of Roland Garros. That’s a step further from all these years that I’ve been playing in Paris. That’s something that made me satisfied.”
Will he be satisfied after two weeks on the turf? We shall have to wait and see. Starting with Juan Carlos Ferrero tomorrow, there is plenty to come from Novak Djokovic. And that includes facial expressions too.