Every now and again, tennis players get criticised for being ‘boring.’ Too robotic, too focused, too dull, only interested in hitting tennis balls and discussing how they want to be No.1 in the world. We’re a bit harsh on them, really. They can’t be everything.
It’s also a rather misguided statement. Especially where Janko Tipsarevic is concerned. In fact, if anything, the Serbian No.2 did things the other way round. Brought his personality first, then developed his tennis.
‘Tipsy,’ as he is affectionately known among tennis fandom, is famous for his sunglasses, his tattoos, his sometimes less than sensible statements, his hidden DJ skills, his video diaries and more. He is anything but just a tennis player.
But that has also hindered him. Being an engaging, interesting, intellectual is all very well. But not necessarily if it doesn’t win you matches. Treading water just inside the top 50, Tipsarevic was a classic case of a talented player foundering on the edge of his potential, rather than fulfilling it.
But all that has changed. The Serb won a match he might once have lost against Slovakian Lukas Lacko in five thrilling sets late on Wednesday night to reach the third round here in Melbourne, that performance coming two days after dispatching Lleyton Hewitt in what the Australian described as ‘the best I’ve seen him play.’
Has Tipsarevic firmed up off the court, and is thus reaping the rewards on it?
“If I had the chance now to speak to my 18 or 19-year-old self, I would tell him to stop being a baby on court,” Tipsarevic revealed last year. “I wish I realised then you must always give everything on the court, that you have a short career, that every match counts.”
He revealed, for instance, that his wife, television host Biljana, has requested that there be no more tattoos. “I am currently on an embargo from my wife not allowing me to do any more,” Tipsarevic said.
Last year was one that produced a career-best 57 wins and 28 losses, his second top 10 season, and a US Open quarter-final. Having waited to win his first singles title until 2011, 2013 has already yielded a fourth career title, in Chennai, India.
But he hasn’t completely sworn off his personality. Tipsarevic, whose father is a professor, remains fascinated by learning.
“I like to learn when I read, and with sociology and psychology, I get to know how people are thinking. I generally do love books that talk about life,” he said.
He also remains fond of a joke, taking the ‘Tipsy-cam’ into the locker room, imitating friend and rival Novak Djokovic, revealing the ins and outs of an ice bath. But the jokes are on the periphery, not the epicentre.
“I was always a hard worker on the tennis court, but I changed the perception of how do I behave and what do I do outside of the tennis court. I give my opponent the same amount of respect, and that’s one
of the reasons why my ranking has improved because in the last year and a half I’ve been more consistent than ever.
“Before I was thinking that it’s enough working hard for four, five, six hours on court and your day ends. Tennis in my opinion is a way of life; you need to live and breathe tennis every day of your life in order to achieve results and be successful in the top, top level. When I understood that, my results started coming and I started being a better tennis player. “
Janko Tipsarevic is no longer just a joker. He’s a serious competitor too.