NEW YORK • Novak Djokovic summoned some cinematic inspiration to help him conquer Grand Slam king Roger Federer and silence the roaring supporters of the Swiss legend in the US Open final.
The Serbian tennis star said after winning Sunday's titanic battle against Federer that he had watched the movie 300 the night before to put him in the mood, and had its star, Scottish actor Gerard Butler, in his player's box.
The 2007 film depicts a vastly outnumbered band of 300 Spartans fighting off advancing Persians in 480BC.
"We have known each other for several years and we are good friends," Djokovic said when asked about Butler. "He happened to be in the city over the last couple of days, so I invited him to come along.
"Funnily enough, I actually sent him a photo and a message last night that I was watching his movie, 300."
After his four-set victory, Djokovic climbed up into his box and hugged his wife, Jelena, coach Boris Becker and other members of his team before spotting Butler.
"When I looked at him I said, 'This is Sparta!' It felt great. That's one of the most inspiring movies I've ever watched."
It was indeed a booster as the sellout crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium was cheering Djokovic's miscues and even disrupting his service motion on occasion, all with the common goal of trying to propel Federer across the finish line.
But Djokovic said that was not the way he processed the partisan noise.
"What I was actually doing was trying to play a mind game with myself. They would scream, 'Roger!' and I would imagine they were screaming, 'Novak!'"
There may truly be no hope for the chasing pack if Djokovic is able to use even one of the most hostile crowds in the recent history of Grand Slam finals to his advantage.
"Hats off to Djokovic for handling that, because frankly it's not easy in terms of the nerves," said Severin Luthi, Federer's co-coach.
Djokovic has had to develop an arsenal of defence mechanisms to meet the challenges through the years. These ranged from his childhood in war-ravaged Serbia to economic hardship and early separation from his parents to trying to make a place for himself at the top of a game where the spoils and allegiances were neatly divided between Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But look who has won three of the four Grand Slam singles titles again this season, losing only in the French Open final.
Look who has a record total of more than 16,000 points in the computer rankings, the most since a new point scale was put into place in 2009. And look who has clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking in mid-September.
"I go through a lot of emotions on the court, like anybody else," Djokovic said. "I just think, over time, I've managed to learn how to use the experience and how to handle and cope with this pressure in tough moments.
"But I also think a lot comes from my character and from the fact that I grew up in circumstances which were not very ordinary and maybe not the circumstances that most of the guys grew up in."
To a neutral observer, it was an extraordinary situation, with the New York crowd more interventionist than even the fans at the Wimbledon final in 2013, which succeeded in helping Andy Murray end a 77-year drought for British men at the All England Club by beating Djokovic.
But Djokovic, well accustomed to playing the villain to Federer's white knight, said he was not a bit surprised by the dynamic.
"I came out on the court knowing what to expect," he said. "I was ready for it mentally, and I think that has helped me keep my cool in the toughest moments."
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES