The story, so it goes, is that while away at a tournament, players noticed that Novak Djokovic was talking with a lisp.
Only, as you may have spotted over the years, Novak Djokovic doesn’t talk with a lisp. And yet here was the 23-time Grand Slam winner talking with a lisp.
When asked how he had, suddenly, contracted this speech impediment, Djokovic put his hand to his mouth and popped out a gum shield.
He was wearing it, so he told them, because it was coated in something that would help him gain a bit of extra power.
On the same trip, Djokovic was also seen walking around with separators between his toes. Something to do with balance and strengthening his feet.
Novak Djokovic will be aiming to secure a 24th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon this year
The Serbian star has previously been seen engaging in a number of unique practices – such as the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira – in his spare time
It helps with his yoga and Tai chi. A video did the rounds last year showing Djokovic practising the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira, a combination of dancing and fighting. What Djokovic does on the court, you might say, is a mix of those things too.
All of this, all of his weird and wacky methods are to help him find an edge. The trust in the healing power of trampolines, the use of meditation to fight off injury, the belief that you can make dirty water clean again with nothing but the strength of your emotions.
All of it is to maintain his body so that a 36-year-old frame moves like one 10 years younger. As Djokovic said after his semi-final win over Jannik Sinner: ‘36 is the new 26.’
When he takes on Carlos Alcaraz in his ninth Wimbledon final today, he’ll face a man 16 years his junior. It’ll be the largest age gap between finalists since Jimmy Connors beat Ken Rosewall in 1974.
By whatever strange means he does it, Djokovic finds that edge. He’s already won the first two Grand Slams of the year and could tomorrow move a step closer to being the first man to complete the set in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
He’s won the last four Wimbledon titles. He’s not lost here since 2016. This is his 35th Grand Slam final. He’s only entered 71. And he’s won 23 of them.
It all makes Djokovic one of the most fascinating and complex characters in sport. Lots of people live gluten-free but how many choose that path after finding it harder to raise their arm when they had a slice of bread pressed to their stomach?
That’s how Djokovic revealed he had gone gluten-free in his book ‘Serve to Win, the 14-day gluten-free plan for physical and mental excellence’.
Djokovic will take on world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz (pictured) in SW19 on Sunday afternoon
The Serbian star has won the last four Wimbledon titles and he’s not lost here since 2016
There was the odd sight at last year’s Wimbledon when Djokovic sat inhaling some mystery substance, what he called a ‘magic potion’, from a water bottle. It was likely just an isotonic supplement but became part of the mysterious show.
That’s why he draws both wonder and wariness, appreciation and apprehension. Crowds still, despite everything he’s achieved, struggle to warm to him. It says something when a Wimbledon crowd favours a Russian opponent as they did in Djokovic’s quarter-final against Andrey Rublev.
Djokovic has already caused controversy by goading the crowd in this year’s Wimbledon
After being booed in his semi-final, Djokovic won the second set, turned to the crowd and wiped his eyes free of fake tears.
He meditates, as do many, but Djokovic also cried for ‘two or three days’ after having elbow surgery because he thought he’d failed himself by not being able to heal himself with natural remedies.
Djokovic’s pursuit of perfection brings fine lines and contradictions. One man’s coated gumshield is another man’s snake oil. Go too far down the rabbit hole and soon you can’t tell the difference between scientist and charlatan.
Who can forget those Instagram Live videos with ‘guru’ Chervin Jafarieh during lockdown in which Djokovic shared his belief in telepathy and telekinesis, gifts from a ‘higher order; how you can purify toxic food and water with feelings’ because the molecules ‘react to our emotions’ and that mixing garlic and honey is ‘one of the most powerful remedies for stomach health’.
He also endorsed Jafarieh’s ‘Golden Mind’ supplement that includes lion’s mane mushroom extract and costs more than £50 a pop and, according to the website, is ‘believed to stimulate peak mental performance and protect against age-related cognitive decline’. Two things for which Djokovic strives.
There was the odd sight at last year’s Wimbledon when Djokovic sat inhaling some mystery substance
And yet this is the same man who gave away Grand Slams because he refused to be vaccinated against Covid — even if it meant him being thrown into an Australian detention centre for asylum seekers.
Djokovic’s own research company is pressing ahead with plans to test a controversial Covid treatment on UK volunteers, despite failing to launch promised clinical trials.
‘I have a good team of people around me,’ said Djokovic ahead of today’s final. ‘We do things in a proper way on a daily basis.
‘I think that gives us benefits when we get to the later stages of a Grand Slam. Most of the players are probably exhausted a bit physically, mentally, or maybe they don’t feel like they can go a step further.
‘But for me, I feel that the job is not finished until I lift the trophy — hopefully — and play in the final of a Grand Slam. I put myself, again, in that position.’
Whatever you make of his methods, Djokovic has built the strongest case of all men’s tennis players in history to go down as the greatest. And he’s not done yet.
Is that because he sticks coated gumshields in his mouth and prays before meals to give thanks to the food or because he trains hard and has the strongest all-round game we may have ever seen? Or do you not get one without the other?
Either way, he finds the edge he seeks. Against Spanish prodigy Alcaraz today, he may well need to find another.