CHENNAI: In a span of a decade, Australia’s James McCabe went from tossing a coin ahead of a Novak Djokovic Grand Slam match to astonishingly being invited for practice by the Serbian legend, who he believes is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of tennis.
In January 2013, James, a nine-year-old at that time, flipped the coin minutes before the Australian Open semi-final clash between eventual champion Djokovic and David Ferrer at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
“There was a national-level event and the winner got to toss the coin. I actually chose Ferrer [to call]. I was really short back then (laughs),” said James, who on Tuesday sailed into the Chennai Open Challenger singles second round with a routine 6-1, 6-4 victory over Yu Hsiou Hsu of Chinese Taipei here.
Nine years later, James, much to his surprise, received a call from a Tennis Australia official and was asked whether he was up for donning the role of a sparring partner for Djokovic ahead of the Australian Open 2022 tournament proper – he was not even part of the top-1000 in the ATP singles rankings when invited.
Although time was not on his side – he was contacted at the eleventh hour – the Melbourne-based James just could not decline a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I lost in the Australian Open qualifying first round, to Alejandro Tabilo. The next day, I was in my room thinking I was going to have a day off. At 12’o clock, I got a phone call saying Djokovic wanted to have a hit with me. I do not remember who called me. ‘Do you want to hit in 30 minutes?’ I was asked,” James, the current World No.356, revealed.
“I think that it is the fastest shower I have ever had and the fastest I have ever got to a car. I was with him (Djokovic) at the Rod Laver Arena on that day. He asked me to hit again the next day at the Margaret Court Arena. That was probably the best hit. I am just really glad that I got the opportunity,” the Philippines-born James went on to add.
Asked how the experience of rubbing shoulders with the 22-time major winner was, James replied: “You do not realise, he is a next-level player. He is just absolutely amazing at what he does. What he does is utterly great. He is my favourite player.”
While the training sessions meant the world to James, they were not of much value for Djokovic as he was later deported from Australia after losing a visa battle and did not compete in the first Slam of the year.
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