When Novak Djokovic was eight, he had a very specific dream – to one day win Wimbledon and become the number one men’s tennis player in the world. In order to help realise this dream, he made a Wimbledon trophy from random objects and materials he could find at home – toys, cardboard, tinfoil? – then, standing in front of the mirror, he looked at himself and repeated the words ‘I'm a Wimbledon champion’.
“I really visualised it strongly and I knew somewhere deep inside that that's going to become a reality one day,” Novak Djokovic says when we meet in a Lacoste store in London ahead of this year's Wimbledon. When it did in 2011, the trophy was real, but one crucial element was different to the scenario he’d acted out in his bedroom as a kid: what he was wearing.
“I wasn't in full whites!” Djokovic gasps, as if to fully acknowledge the significance of Wimbledon’s fabled dress code. “I was probably in my undies, too focused on the trophy and on the goal rather than the outfit,” he laughs. “But it's funny you asked me that, because I did have a special part of my closet in my bedroom where I kept white-only clothes. And I wrote a little W next to it because it reminded me of Wimbledon.”
When it comes to Djokovic’s on-court style, he likes to use what he wears as a secret weapon. “Aesthetically you want it to look nice and I try to keep my posture right... but I always think of a camouflage aspect too,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion says semi-seriously, as if revealing his deepest secret to success. “I always want to blend with the colours of the court, the surface or the background because it does play a role (however minor) in the match, the peripheral vision has an effect when you play because it's a very dynamic game and everything happens really quick.”
Obviously, when it comes to Wimbledon's strict dress code, such tactics don’t work – and he’s fine with that. “We all know that Wimbledon is all white, and we all love that about Wimbledon because it's kept its tradition. There's no advertisements around. It's all about tennis and style and history," the Lacoste ambassador says. “And strawberries.”
Similar to when he won the French Open to reach 23 career Grand Slams – a record for the men’s game, surpassing Rafa Nadal’s 22 – we ask if he has a special 24 Lacoste top in the works in case he wins Wimbledon this year. “Knowing Lacoste they'll probably have something ready, but I want to be surprised," he says. “I didn't expect it in Paris. But for this kind of historic occasion, Lacoste being such a big fashion and sports brand, obviously they wanted it to be ready to use the moment. Being a French brand, with René Lacoste [the founder] a champion tennis player, winning in Paris was a perfectly scripted scenario. I assume if there's a jacket [for Wimbledon], it will be white with 24 – maybe it could be green, yellowish, purple?”
Djovokic hasn’t always been a picture of style on court though. “I used to have different birds on the back of my shirt – falcons and eagles I think,” he says. “I've done different collections with different sponsors so it's interesting to see how chronologically you evolve in that aspect. The older you get, the more you understand everything that you wear, how it affects your brand – particularly if you are in a position of being a top player in the world where all eyes are on you.”
He also can’t quite work out how the short shorts tennis trend of yesteryear – think Borg, McEnroes, Becker – was ever functional. “I don't know if the new generations, including myself, would be super comfortable wearing short shorts. You can see these muscle-y thighs. I have things to show, of course. I don't like it too long, but yeah, I think if it's too short, then it's probably a matter of just the trends, that back in the day in the '70s, '80s, '90s it was normal, so everyone wore them.
“Do you remember Agassi was the first one that got those short jeans shorts?” Djovokic asks, continuing the shorts convo. “Then Nadal was the first to play with the extra long shorts, like over the knee type of length with the whole sleeveless style. I don't know, that's not really comfortable for me. I was always more into being quite classic,” he notes.
Over the years, that classic style has come from experience. From knowing what works best for him, and being a creature of habit is something that has held Djovokic in good stead. His rackets, his diet, his clothes, his hair – he’s long known what his winning formula is. That takes trial and error, though.
“The only time in my life when I coloured my hair was when I played my first ever Grand Slam match,” he laughs. “It was 2005 in Australia, I was 17 and playing Marat Safin on the centre court. It was a night match so earlier in the day I went to a hair salon because my hair was too long. I told the hairdresser that it was my first match, so she made the recommendation of doing something special to mark the occasion. I was up for it so we just coloured the front part slightly so it kind of faded on the side. I lost,” he says, with Safin going on to be the eventual champion that year.
“My mom called me afterwards and was like, What were you thinking about? I was like, Hey, I'm young, I just wanted to do something,” says Djokovic. That was the first and the only time the 36-year-old has messed with his hair. But now, as a father of two children, he doesn't want to say if it’ll be the last time. “What if my daughter wants me to paint my nails and do my hair differently? You never know.”
See Novak Djokovic's latest Lacoste collection here