Serbias Novak Djokovic, the No. 3 seed and a rising young force in the mens game, had just defeated Spains Carlos Moya in straight sets to advance to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open.
Afterward, while still on the court, television interviewer Michael Barkann mentioned that he had heard that Djokovic did several entertaining impressions of other top players.
Which one, the 20-year-old Djokovic asked, do you want me to do?
Most of the huge crowd was still hanging around watching and listening in over the public address system. All of a sudden there was a buzz of anticipation.
Maria Sharapova, Barkann requested.
At which point, Djokovic hitched up his shorts, made a few other wardrobe adjustments and proceeded to do a dead-on impersonation of the No. 2 seed on the womens side that had been knocked out of her draw earlier in the fortnight.
It brought down the house.
One more, Barkann begged: Rafael Nadal.
This time Djokovic lowered his shorts, not pruriently, in a mock attempt to mimic the Capri-style pants Nadal wears. He affected a few more idiosyncrasies. And suddenly it was if Nadal himself (who had lost earlier in the week) was right there on the court.
Both imitations were caricatures. Both were laugh-out-loud funny. And both came at a time when athletes, in almost every sport, are deadpanning about how they play just one shot and/or match at a time and how they need to stay focused.
Nothing wrong with staying in the moment and being focused. It may be even more important in golf than it is in tennis.
But the willingness of Novak (No Joke) Djokovic to lighten up for a few minutes at one his sports biggest stages was so, so refreshing.
Athletes have to be themselves. We should never expect Tiger Woods to act like Chris Rock the next time he wins The Masters. Phil Mickelson will never be Rodney Dangerfield. And thank goodness for that.
But Djokovic, who is good enough at tennis to have beaten world No. 1 Roger Federer, earlier this summer, takes his sport very seriously when he is on the court. He sometimes bounces the ball 23 times before serving. (And we thought Jim Furyk backing away from putts to get re-reads was annoying). Its enough to drive you to distraction. Even Djokovic, sounding a little like Ben Crane, knows its a problem.
The best golf impersonator Ive seen is Peter Jacobsen. His Craig Stadler and Arnold Palmer are hilarious and have been aired many times on GOLF CHANNEL. I have also been treated, as part of a private audience, to a Jacobsen send-up of GOLF CHANNEL colleague Mark Lye. It literally made me fall down laughing.
But what made Djokovics impromptu improv so intriguing and so winning was his willingness to do it at a time and placed normally not reserved for humor.
The best thing going, that way, in golf these days is former PGA champion Rich Beem. The Beemer jumped back onto golfs radar screen at the first two FedExCup playoff events. He played well. And that got him into the press room.
Among other things, with transcribers recording every word, Beem said:
When asked about his mental state: Im managing my marbles.
When asked to name his favorite thing about the FedExCup: The money.
When asked how smart he is: I may be dumb but I aint stupid.
Theres a lot of showman in Beem and a tiny bit of Yogi Berra. That is to say, he understands what he doesnt understand.
There are guys out there (on the PGA TOUR) who wear their emotions on their sleeve'Calcavecchia, Steve Pate, Pat Perez, Beem said. I dont think theres anything wrong with it as long as it doesnt carry over from one shot to the next to the next and you make an ass out of yourself out there. I think that, you know, its okay to some emotion out there.
Right on, Rich.
And to that I would add: I wish Novak Djokovic played golf.
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