The first piece of Serbian-related news my friend and I received upon arriving in Belgrade is that Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were to face off in the Grand Slam finale last night. We planned to watch the match last night, but it was rained out so it happened while we were in a bus to Sarajevo. Still, Novak - as my Serbian friends affectionately call him - was the victor, adding yet another jewel to his crown of championships. Unsurprisingly, there's not a whole lot of celebrating happening in Bosnia right now but when we return to Belgrade it will no doubt be in abundance. Last time I was in Serbia, Djokovic was just starting to gain worldwide recognition after winning the Australian Open for the first time in 2011. Even then he was a Serbian celebrity, and now he has surpassed any other 21st-century Serbian superstar.
It's hard to describe his fandom in Serbia. He is beloved by everyone in this small country which is roughly the size of Austria or Maine. Last March, thousands of Serbs waited for hours just to see Novak Djovokic practice before his Davis Cup match against a Croatian player. Djokovic had requested to have his practice open to the public for fans who couldn't get a ticket for the match, and the fans came out in droves.
Though I'm a far cry from an avid sports consumer, it seems that the star athletes are usually beloved if they play for the team you root for or if they're from your hometown. When the Olympics rolls around people get excited about individual athletes because they're American, but the intensity of that admiration peaks every four years. Perhaps one could draw an analogy to, say, the Beatles or Taylor Swift, but Djokovic's fans represent every generation in Serbia, not just the youth. The mother of the woman hosting me in Belgrade is temporarily living in our apartment, and she informed us of the Sunday evening match. When the match was postponed this elderly Serb became distraught because, as she said, she had been looking forward to this match all week.
I'll keep an eye out for other ways to describe this extreme fame in Belgrade over the coming months.