World No 1 Novak Djokovic has stunned a Chinese reporter by responding to her in her own language.
The incident took place at a press conference during the United Cup in Perth, where Serbia have reached the quarter-finals. Their defeated group opponents included China, and after that tie, a reporter asked Djokovic to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese.
To the amazement of all those present, including his own Serbian team-mate Olga Danilovic, Djokovic did not merely repeat the phrase. He also continued by adding another three Chinese sentences of his own.
“How are you?” he said. “Thank you for your support. I love you China, my good friend!”
As every tennis fan knows, Djokovic is the man for all seasons and all surfaces – a Swiss-army knife of a player who can switch up his style at will.
And that versatility extends off the court, for he can sustain a conversation in at least half-a-dozen different languages, regularly conducting post-match interviews in the local tongue. His three strongest suits are Serbian, English and Italian, while he gets by pretty well in German, French and Spanish.
Djokovic has won his first two matches at the United Cup, against China’s Zhizhen Zhang and the Czech Republic’s Jiri Lehecka, although there was some minor concern in the second match when he needed medical treatment on his right wrist.
“I managed to play through,” Djokovic said after his three-set victory over Lehecka. “It’s not the first time or the last time, these things happen. You just have to manage. You have to find a solution and thankfully I managed to finish the match.”
Despite this niggle, Djokovic is odds-on with most bookmakers to claim an 11th Australian Open title at the end of this month and thus extend his dominant sequence to four of the last five majors.
Tournament organisers will be praying that the draw throws up a blockbuster meeting between him and a resurgent Rafael Nadal, who made a highly impressive return to the match court on Tuesday. After 59 previous meetings between these two giants of the game, Djokovic leads by the barest of margins: 30 wins to 29.