Common Cents & Novak Djokovic on July 19, 2019

This past Sunday, I watched every point of the men’s finals at Wimbledon between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, every point. This took some conviction and playing hooky from church, but I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the screen. While I will stop short of saying it was the best tennis match in history, I am not sure if I have personally seen a more gripping one. It was the longest men’s final in the history of the tournament, going to a fifth set tie break at 12-12.

By almost every measure, Federer outplayed Djokovic and should have won, but he didn’t. Roger won more games. If I am not mistaken, he also won more points, more points at the net, had more aces, committed fewer double-faults, converted more break points, and had more winners. In truth, there was almost no point in the match when I felt Novak was in control. Conversely, after he saved 2 match points in the 16th game of the final set, I didn’t think he would lose.

The crowd was boisterous and unapologetic in rooting for Federer. Outside of the family box, I am not sure if there were even 100 people in the 14,979 seat Centre Court pulling for Djokovic, seriously. The mob cheered when Novak double-faulted, and booed loudly when he questioned a call late in the 5th set. To add a little insult to injury, the chair issued a warned to the Serb the one time he showed any real frustration which was after a key point some 4.5 hours into the match. I have seen others do far worse than he did without as much as a whisper from the chair, but, boy, did the hate pour down on him in buckets from the stands.

In watching the match, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Djokovic. First, he is one of my favorite players slightly behind only, you guessed it, Federer. So, I don’t have any enmity for the man. In fact, I started actively rooting for him in the second set, due to the circumstances and the fact he is a spitting image of my pledge brother Sean. Second, I imagine the real reason why the crowd rooted against him was simply this: he is not Federer, and Federer is one of the most popular athletes in the world and of all time in tennis. The only one who comes close in popularity to Roger is Raphael Nadal, and he had beaten the Spaniard in the semis. Djokovic? Outside of Nadal, to the casual fan, he was the only person who stood a chance of beating the world’s favorite Swiss in Wimbledon. So, boo you Novak!

I bring this up because despite being outplayed, arguably, and the crowd being openly hostile, inarguably, the world’s top-ranked player kept his composure and won the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament. I mean, what sort of concentration must the man have? What type of fortitude? Stamina, both emotional and physical? It defies logic, as 99.999% of people would have folded like a paper umbrella under similar circumstances, if not more. That is the sign of greatness, and great Novak Djokovic is and was last Sunday.

So, was it the best match ever? I am not sure. Was it the best individual performance by a tennis player I have seen? When you consider Novak had to play a physically demanding sport at an extremely high level for 5 hours against one of the best who has ever played the game AND 14,875 haters, I struggle to think of many any better.

This has an economic point.

Think of a company or public figure you admire. Are there any? If so, what do you admire about them? What makes them special to you? Would it be their greed or pride? Petulance or overall irascibility? That they vacillate or otherwise fail to have any true convictions? Perhaps you respect their tendency to cave or wilt under peer pressure? Maybe you think their stubbornness to change makes them more authentic? That their closemindedness is a sign they are true to their word or something along those lines? What would it be?

Clearly, or I would hope, these are traits you wouldn’t admire. However, how many of us, or other institutions, fail at some point along these lines? The answer is obvious: all do at some point. It is how we deal with our failures and setbacks which makes us unique. Do they galvanize us or make us weaker? Do we strive to be better or do we say to heck with it? Do we take our dollars to the grave or the respect of others?

At no point in my life can I remember a time when society feels as unsettled as it does today. We are prone to point out the faults and foibles of others. If someone disagrees with ‘us,’ they must be a fool, evil, or, most likely, a combination of the two. Certainly, someone who believes differently than I do doesn’t have the brains God gave a goose! Right? They are to be dismissed out of hand, and, if you don’t do it, I will. Why should I listen to them when they are so clearly in the wrong?

Lost in our society’s zeal to secularly damn and otherwise dehumanize others is how unattractive the pride is which has taken us down this path. This being when everyone seems so angry when things are going so well economically. Laughingly, you could argue I am being prideful by pointing out the destructive pride which I feel is choking productive discourse in society.

As I type, it is hard for me to ‘come up’ with a huge number of public figures and/or companies which would exemplify the opposite of the negative traits I outlined in the previous paragraph. To be sure, there are some, but it is hardly an inexhaustible list and I had to really kind of think about it. I wonder why that is. Maybe it is me or maybe it is, well, the truth?

For years, I have maintained the biggest problems in our country are societal, not economic. To be sure, economic problems can lead to societal ones, and often do. However, we are currently in the longest expansion/recovery in US economic history. In September, the Census Bureau will announce Median Household Income in the United States reached an all-time in 2018 in both inflation-adjusted and current dollar terms. We already know the Unemployment Rate is at or near historical lows, and that wage growth has been exceeding the CPI (Consumer Price Index…inflation). Finally, the most accepted proxy for economic inequality, the GINI Index, has barely budged over the last 20 years.

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the GINI Index in the United States was 40.8 in 1997. As a point of edification, the higher the GINI the more unequal the economy. In 2016, it had increased to 41.5. While that isn’t moving in the ‘right’ direction, it is hard to argue it is exploding, at least using this measure. Couple this with a general rising economic tide, and the average American is ‘doing better’ than the headlines and social media outlets would lead us to believe. At least that is what the objective data suggests. But, hey, if lowering income inequality is the most important thing to you, consider this: Kosovo had a much lower GINI reading than the US at 26.3 in 2016. Of course, no one has any money or income there, so there’s that. I guess what I am try to say is: we have it pretty good here. So, why are we so angry with one another, or so it would seem?

But what in the blue blazes does this have to do with Novak Djokovic and a tennis match played in the United Kingdom against a Swiss citizen? Huh, Norris? I mean, that is about as un-American as it gets.

Well, here is thing, which I learned or relearned this past Sunday: if you are focused and determined; if you have prepared yourself both mentally and physically; if you have a game plan but can adapt it to changing conditions, and IF you can block out the haters and focus on being the best YOU can be, man, you can achieve special things. There is a valuable lesson in that for all of us, our society, and our economy. We would be wise to learn it.

So, for that, and a heckuva entertaining match, thank you Novak.


Have a great weekend.


John Norris