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Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Entrepreneur Djokovic trying to regain form


Move over, David Beckham. Here comes Brand Novak Djokovic.

Not content with a solitary Novak eatery already in place in tennis-mad Belgrade, reports emanating from Serbia suggest a chain of restaurants with the same name is due to open across Europe when the economy picks up. The Djokovic family, spearheaded by sometimes-controversial dad Srdjan, is highly ambitious.

The cuisine is described as international, encompassing Spanish, Argentine and Italian, according to a Blic newspaper review. You might go for a "tennis club steak." We're not sure whether a huge dollop of butter replicating a tennis ball accompanies the meal.

There's ample to do while waiting for grub -- TV screens scattered across the swanky premises showcase Novak Djokovic's matches and the 22-year-old receiving all sorts of awards. An impressive glass tube housing tennis balls is on show.

If a midnight snack is on the horizon, why not turn to Djokovic's chocolate bar, the Marzipan Bar Classic? Wash it down with some Aqua Novak, on display as the right-hander won the inaugural Serbia Open in May.

Of course, slightly reshaping his image and more wins would help boost Djokovic's profile worldwide. The heavily endorsed and oh-so-nice Beckham -- like Djokovic, a handsome fella with great hair (although Djokovic opts for a more natural look) -- claimed soccer league titles with the Yankees and Dodgers of soccer, Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Djokovic has underwhelmed since winning his lone Grand Slam event at the Australian Open in 2008, the year he was forecast by many to outdo Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and finish the campaign as the top dog.

The carefree guy who used to humorously imitate colleagues (which went down particularly well -- with fans, not players -- at the U.S. Open in 2007) is long gone. Djokovic has drawn criticism for retiring in several big matches, including in the quarterfinals this past January in Melbourne against rival Andy Roddick. They called it a heat-induced illness.

Following his title Down Under last year, Djokovic bailed on Davis Cup duty against Russia -- quitting when leading Nikolay Davydenko two sets to one and with Serbia in a must-win situation.

A return to the more relaxed Djokovic would be nice. On the plus side, and these are big plusses, he's the only elite player to really applaud opponents' shots, and there's no need to call the umpire out of the chair to look at clay marks on Djokovic's side of the court -- you can take his word. When Djokovic loses, he usually offers a smile and warm handshake at the net, no sulking in sight.

He also showed genuine concern when first-round foe Julien Benneteau sustained a knee injury that necessitated treatment deep in the fourth set. It wasn't one of those superficial are-you-OK instances.

Despite the dip in form, only a minor miracle would have prevented Djokovic from defeating German qualifier Simon Greul in the second round at Wimbledon on Wednesday, the same round in which he exited last year. An upset gathered steam when Greul broke early in the first set, but the fourth seed broke back to make it 4-4 and then took the opener 7-5.

One expected Djokovic to cruise past a player who had won his first Grand Slam match, and his first main-draw match on grass, only Monday. It took a while to happen.

Djokovic, playing way too defensively lately, dropped serve to start the second and vented his frustration on his racket, throwing it to the ground. He duly claimed the second set 6-1 and eased to the third 6-4.

Djokovic has mentioned more than once how a four-hour loss to Nadal on clay in the Madrid Open semifinals in May, after the title in Belgrade, affected him mentally, contributing to a third-round loss at the French Open. He then had to save five match points in his first grass-court match of 2009 at the Gerry Weber Open.

So, good for Djokovic that he has a relatively comfortable draw, one that will allow him to ease into the second week. He has no problems with the media focusing on Federer and Brit hope Andy Murray in London and hopes that continues.

"I wish for that so I can really focus on my game and try to perform my best tennis as possible," he said in a statement that won't inspire confidence among his fans.

Djokovic, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2007, faces American Mardy Fish in the third round, and his biggest obstacle to a potential semifinal against Federer figures to be rejuvenated German Tommy Haas. Djokovic interestingly wouldn't call himself the favorite against Fish, a Grand Slam quarterfinalist just twice. Haas indeed downed Djokovic in the final of the Gerry Weber Open -- not over five sets.

Now, if Djokovic gets to Federer, beats the Swiss and captures a second major, just imagine how many more restaurants might be in the works.