Some players have a special aura. They have magic in their hands. At Wimbledon in 2005, an 18-year-old Serbian was introduced to the world as one of the biggest talents of the future. Making his tournament debut, he was still yet to break into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
It only took a few points for Toni Nadal to appreciate his talent from the stands. The coach of the reigning Roland Garros champion, crowned a few weeks earlier in Paris, was sidetracked en route to the locker room from Aorangi Park, the training area at the All England Club. He decided to pay a quick visit to Court 18, where Argentine player Juan Monaco — his nephew’s habitual sparring partner and friend — was playing against a player he had never seen before.
“Who’s that kid?,” Toni asked.
“He’s 18 years old and he’s 100 and a bit in the world,” came the answer.
“What’s his name?” Toni responded.
Toni Nadal burned the name into his memory. After watching the match for a few minutes he continued his walk to the locker room, where Nadal, who was just a year older than the kid who had just stunned him with his game, was waiting. When they met, Toni Nadal made a famous statement that would prove prophetic: “Rafael, we have a problem. I’ve just seen a really good kid,” said Toni.
Later, they heard the news that the Serbian, still unknown to the public, had beaten Monaco 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3. It was just his second victory in a Grand Slam (2-2), after making his major debut earlier in the year at the Australian Open. But in London he was starting to show signs that, sooner rather than later, he could become a player to keep an eye on. In the second round on the London grass, Guillermo Garcia Lopez awaited Djokovic.
The Spaniard produced faultless tennis at the start of a match and seemed to be in complete control with a 6-3, 6-3, 5-3 lead.
“It was incredible because I had it practically won. At 5-4 and 40/30 in the third set, I hit a great serve into the ‘T’ and I was left with a mid-court forehand onto his forehand to win the point. I looked at the line judge and he called it in and I celebrated victory,” said García López.
However, his elation was fleeting. As the players approached the net to shake hands, the umpire overruled the call and said that the ball was out.
“The match continued. I lost my concentration in that game and we got to 5-5. I broke back and went 6-5 up, 40/0 on my serve. I had three more match points,” said Garcia Lopez.
But the Serbian saved each one and made it through the third and fourth sets 7-6(5), 7-6(3). Djokovic claimed the deciding set 6-4 to seal his first comeback win in a Grand Slam after four hours and eight minutes.
That 18-year-old boy, who had surprised Toni Nadal a few days earlier, was competing like a veteran.
“He was a player that never ever gave up, he had huge potential,” said Garcia Lopez. “His baseline shots were so solid on both sides. Maybe another player wouldn’t have come back against me. With that scoreline, coming out on top of that match means he is a born competitor.
“You could see he had the potential to make it, of course. Djokovic has so much belief in himself. He is a winner with a lot of qualities in terms of agility, mobility and shotmaking.”