Novak Djokovic, who surpassed Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the top-ranked men’s tennis player, appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” this month.
By GREG BISHOP for NEW YORK TIMES SPORTS
MONTREAL — Pressed against a barricade, fans glimpsed Novak Djokovic and readied their cellphones. Necks craned. Cameras flashed. Djokovic, the Serb now deep into a historic tennis season, had created an impromptu mosh pit at a recent tournament here.
Novak Djokovic is the top men’s seed for the U.S. Open.
The scene underscored the defining characteristic of his season: change, on all fronts, with more promised. In the past year, in a relatively extreme makeover, Djokovic changed his serve, his diet, his publicist, his fitness regimen and, because of all of this, his standing in men’s tennis.
The next phase — making Djokovic a household name, among the world’s biggest sports stars — will continue next week in the United States Open, where he was named Wednesday the No. 1 seed in the men’s draw. While Djokovic has surpassed his rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the tennis court, he now hopes to at least join those two, who both reside on Forbes magazine’s list of the top 10 most powerful athletes, in areas such as endorsements, fame and global exposure.
“Of course, the world is looking at me differently,” Djokovic said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m pretending that I’m modest, but I don’t really consider myself a star, or something like that.”
Perhaps Djokovic was not widely regarded as a star — merely a very good professional tennis player — until his dominance this year. He has won 57 of 59 matches and nine tournaments since January because his game, a combination of speed and endurance and a counterattacking baseline style, robbed opponents of a precious element in tennis — time.
Suddenly, Djokovic himself is pressed for time. The task of coordinating the effort to boost his image falls to Goran Djokovic, Novak’s uncle and chief marketing strategist. This week alone, he planned 30 to 40 business meetings, while Edoardo Artaldi, the new publicist, handled the 30 or so daily media requests.
It takes time to appear on national talk shows (he taught Jay Leno and Katie Holmes a Serbian dance), time to sift through marketing pitches, time to pursue Djokovic’s next dream, acting, in Hollywood.
“Our job is also to show the world, to show the United States, that there is a new No. 1 in the world,” Goran Djokovic said, leaning forward Tuesday in the lobby of the Mondrian Hotel in Manhattan. “We have to adjust everything, what we are doing now. But let’s say we are preparing for that all our life.”