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For Novak Djokovic, A Year To Celebrate In Tennis

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For Novak Djokovic, A Year To Celebrate In Tennis

For Novak Djokovic, A Year To Celebrate In Tennis

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This was also a very good year for the Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic. He played 76 matches and, incredibly, lost only six of them.

JON WERTHEIM: For my money, this is the athlete of the year, no question about it.

WERTHEIMER: Jon Wertheim covers tennis for Sports Illustrated.

WERTHEIM: This is a brutal, brutal sport. This guy is playing on six continents, on every surface. He's beating Federer, Nadal, 10 out of 11 times. And the fact that the season spans more than 10 months, this is one of the all-time great years in open tennis history.

WERTHEIMER: Djokovic won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments - the Australian and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon, where he captured tennis's number one ranking.

(SOUNDBITE OF TENNIS MATCH AND CHEERING)

WERTHEIMER: Djokovic was a very good player for a very long time, but he didn't seem to have the energy to close out big matches against the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Lots of things changed for Djokovic this year: his fitness regime, his focus, but maybe most influential was his decision to forsake bread, pizza, and pasta. There was a lot of interest in Djokovic going gluten-free, including from Jay Leno.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO: You changed your diet. What did you do there?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I changed my diet. I'm gluten-free officially.

LENO: Gluten-free?

DJOKOVIC: Gluten-free, yeah.

LENO: But your family owns a pizza shop, don't they?

DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I know, I know. And the worst thing is that in Serbia, like, every corner of the street of Belgrade, of my city, is a bakery.

WERTHEIMER: A year ago, you probably hadn't heard of Djokovic unless you were a dedicated tennis fan. Even after his success, Djokovic flies under the radar. He's not flashy, does not behave badly, and he's from a small country. But Djokovic has raised his profile using his sense of humor, impersonating other tennis players and displaying unknown talents.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

DJOKOVIC: Jay, I have a surprise for you tonight. So please, Serbian dancers come on in.

WERTHEIMER: Djokovic showed off his dance moves on "The Tonight Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Novak Djokovic faded a little at the end of the year, losing four matches. But he had such an amazing season that his performance in 2011 still ranks as one of tennis's all-time best.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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