I read in yesterday’s NY Times that Uncle Toni apparently felt that the celebration of Djokovic’s victory at Wimbledon was over-the-top and unseemly. The Times quotes Uncle Toni’s comments as they appeared in the Spanish newspaper Marca: “I don't want to get involved in others’ celebrations because it would be ugly of me. But in life, you have to conduct yourself with a certain humility.”
It’s easy to dismiss Uncle Toni’s comments as mere sour grapes. After all, Djokovic could not have been humbler in victory. He spent most of the interview with Sue Barker praising the talent of his opponent. And in another post-match interview, he graciously acknowledged that he has become as good as he now is because of having to figure out how to play against the great Nadal and Federer. Surely even Uncle Toni would allow that his words were tasteful and humble?
But Uncle Toni’s comments were taken by the Times as referring to the boisterous celebration participated in by the Djokovic clan and their supporters just outside of the Wimbledon tennis courts. Apparently Djokovic’s father was being tossed in the air by a group of proud and happy Serbians as they shouted, stamped, and clapped with glee.
And while I agree that the Spanish were more vocal in their celebration of their World Cup victory than they were the first time Rafa won Wimbledon, surely the extent of the celebration was only a matter of degree? And while the Spanish do not always toss people in the air – preferring to pile on top of one another in a deliciously gay heap – who’s to say how exactly a victory should be celebrated?
Which all led me to thinking about the whole business of celebrating victory. Who gets to decide when the manner of a player’s or his family’s celebration is just too much? Who is the arbiter of form or taste that can dictate how a family may celebrate a cherished son’s huge accomplishment, plus the rewards of their years of sacrifice in support of their child achieving his goals? In other words, when is it all just too much?
Some years ago Richard Williams was roundly castigated for jumping over the NBC broadcasting booth and performing a dance of triumph as his daughter Venus spanked Lindsay Davenport at the 2000 Wimbledon. I personally had no problem with his spontaneous moment of celebration.
But I understand why the sound of feet pounding on the roof of the booth may have frightened Chris Evert who apparently thought that the roof was about to cave in. And for that reason alone perhaps Richard should have contained his impulses. But in the heat of the moment, his pride and happiness in his and his daughter’s achievements (Serena and Venus had also won doubles) could not be contained. And that I totally get.
I believe that there is a cultural aspect to how people celebrate and that we need to become more tolerant of such differences in emotional expression. I don’t mean to stereotype but it made perfect sense to me that an African-American man would want to get his dance on. I also got it when the Swiss celebrated Federer’s first Wimbledon victory by giving him a cow. And Serbia, with its murky political history, is probably deeply grateful to Djokovic for showing the country in a positive light. Which is why he was driven for hours yesterday in Belgrade in an open-topped bus as throngs of people feted him.
But I have to admit that there is nothing cultural that explains Djokovic’ bizarre decision to uproot some leaves of Wimbledon grass and proceed to chew on and swallow them. In the heat of the moment people do strange things. Or maybe Djokovic was just getting his cow on. Who knew he had an inner Juliet?
But there is a sexist aspect to the celebration of sporting victories that always unnerves me. I don’t remember Serbians going ape-shit when Jelena Jankovic achieved her blink-and-you-missed-it moment as the #1 player in the world. And while all of Croatia went ape-shit when Goran Ivanisevic finally won Wimbledon, I don’t remember poor Iva Majoli becoming similarly celebrated when she won the French. I could give many more examples of such inequity. It’s sexist and unfair. Why are we so much more comfortable celebrating the achievements of great men?