“Who's intelligent is meant to remain a nobody, only stupid people become someone. Men in 19th century must, is morally forced to be a creature without character”. This is an excerpt from the most intense molologue by Fedor Dostojevski, part of “Notes from the Underground”, the most intense novel by the Russian. This is the favourite novel of Janko Tipsarevic, the manifold Serbian player who reached at the Kremlin Cup the first semifinal in two years defeating Robbie Ginepri with a double 6-3. Tipso clinched the victory with an amazing 93 percent of his first-serve points and winning all 14 of his first-serve points during his last five service games.
The really interesting part of his history isn't in his career, in his results. But in what lays behind the court, in the relation between a curious and cultivated player with an as much cultivated coach, Alberto Castellani.
“The greatness of Notes From The Underground is that Dostojevski spoke about the unconscious and subconscious many years before Freud” once said to his coach. Castellani so described Tipso. He wants to know everything and dreams to explain you everything he knows. Other players calls him “the Small Professor”.
He loves Dostojevski. Last year, during the Kremlin Cup, Tipso defeated Mathieu and was meant to play against Marat Safin. But that night he went to the museum dedicated to him. A devotion he brings tattoed on his skin: “Beauty will save the world”, from The Idiot.
I remember him in Rome, in 2008, when he played against Fernando Gonzalez with sunglasses and a racquet with red strings. He's extremely talented, but has the rare value of being man before than athlete, of putting Janko ahead of Tipsarevic, life ahead of career.
Castellani started working with the Serb at the end 2005: Janko has fallen down to n.138 in the World Ranking and hasn't won since Wimbledon. He projected, and projects yet, a personalized practice from the technical, physical and mental point of view. Tipso works hard on his serve, works to play a metre or two more in front, to hit balls rising. His ranking improves, but the man remains ahead of the athlete, his absent-mindedness hasn't ceased to affect him and his results. Janko is an all surfaces player, but is above all a man with an umprecedented “literary hunger” so peculiar on a tennis court.
Castellani reveals endless conversations about the fundamentals of philosophy, about the roots of being a man: Does God exists? (Janko doesn't believe in it), Is truth possible?, Who created the universe?
They talks about Saint Augustine, Heidegger, the Italian Emanuele Severino, Nietzche (the philosopher preferred by Tipso). He knew Nietzche, the ideal of necessity of nichilism, but he thought it was not enough. So he read “Beyond Good and Evil”, “On the genealogy of Morality”, “Human, too human”, “The Gay science”. His mother was extremely satisfied of his son's progress.
The two often go to Belgrade: the pool where Janko and other Serbs practiced themselves during the war and the bombings from the anti-Milosevic force stays there yet. In Belgrade bombs couldn't target places guarded by crowds of civilians who massively reunited to save the pool and the city bridges. When evening empires vanished into sands, Janko remained the tambourine of a “melting pot” music, made of forehands and kalashnikov.
His meditations involves logic and the theory of the “everything flows” by Heraclitus, the deepness of “Achilles and the tortue” and the basis of the Western culture. Janko is fascinated by the extreme consequences of the “everything flows”: because if becoming means transforming itself in something different, this imply the destruction of the architraves of Parmenides: “It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not”. Travelling through tournaments, in his bags there were racquets, shirts and everything necessary for the athlete, but also not less than six books about philosophy: Kant, Nietzche, ancient Greeks, but even Avicenna and Averroes.
The most striking aspect of his personality is his strong, radicated hate for mediocrity and “the right medium”. Horatian motto “est modus in rebus” doesn't fit to Janko, who wants everyone go beyond the limits. Castellani is half coach half teacher: latin, phisics, Einstein, black holes, art, Caravaggio. Even if Janko continues asking his coach to be stricter, he defeated Lleyton Hewitt in Australia. “I'm Serbian, we grow with rigid rules”. “Ok”, answered Castellani who doesn't believe in authoritarian methods. “If you need more strictness, you can give yourself a stricter discipline”. It's like to say, put your good and your evil ahead of you like a law and be so courageous to live respecting your law: a perfect nietzchean suggestion.
Castellani wasn't at Wimbledon; Janko went to the Championships with his trainer and manager and played the best tournament of his life. As Tim Roth wrote closing his American Pastoral, “could something be more perfect?”.
Personally, I don't think.