Novak Djokovic thanked his “lucky charm” Diego Maradona after the U.S. Open finalist eased past Tomas Berdych at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
With former Argentina soccer coach Maradona watching in the stands, the third-ranked Djokovic beat Berdych 6-3, 6-3 to open Group A play yesterday at the O2 arena in east London.
Maradona, who captained Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986, had received a mixture of cheers and jeers from the crowd as he entered the arena halfway through the first set. Djokovic was among those to welcome him.
“He’s a big legend,” Djokovic told reporters. “We never met in person. This was the first time. So he’s going to stay throughout the whole tournament. Hopefully he can be my lucky charm.”
Djokovic and Maradona, who had exchanged jerseys and rackets in the past, will play “a little bit of tennis and football,” today, the Serb said, adding that he kept one of the shirts Maradona sent him in “a special place” at home in Belgrade.
“He’s actually doing coaching,” Djokovic said when asked why Maradona had travelled to watch his match.
“We’re working on some specifics, like how to play with hands, high balls,” the Serb joked, referring to the Argentine’s handballed goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, which Maradona later described as the “hand of God.”
Maradona also met other players at the ATP Finals including top-ranked Rafael Nadal and Britain’s Andy Murray. Spain’s Nadal last night fought back from a set down to beat Andy Roddick of the U.S. 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in the other Group A match.
They’d all been star struck on meeting Maradona, according to Djokovic.
‘Kind of Nervous’
“He’s one of the biggest icons of the sport ever,” Djokovic said. “It’s normal that we’re all excited and kind of nervous in front of him when we speak to him.”
The year-end tournament in London, won by Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko last year, has a round-robin format. The top eight players from this season are split into two groups of four, with the top two in each section moving into the knockout semifinals.
In today’s Group B matches, Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer faces Murray in the afternoon, while Spain’s David Ferrer plays Robin Soderling of Sweden in the evening session.
Federer, the winner of a men’s record 16 majors, is trying to join Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras as the only men to have won the year-end championships five times.