Novak Djokovic is one of the greatest players ever to have picked up a racket. Yet he isn’t given the same adulation as the likes of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
A simple reason for this is that both Federer and Nadal were dominating the sport before the Serb. Naturally, with both players winning grand slams before Djokovic, it is to be expected that both players would have many fans who reminisce about the classic matches before the likes of Djokovic and Murray came along to challenge for slams.
Novak Djokovic – The Disrespected Champion
However, in the case of Djokovic, as proven most strikingly in Sunday’s Wimbledon final, the way he is treated by some fans is borderline disrespectful. During Sunday’s thrilling final between Djokovic and Federer, he crowd applauded Djokovic’s double faults and many didn’t applaud the fantastic tennis he produced and when he won the match, there was somewhat of a muted applause. In short, they were unappreciative, bordering on resentful of the Serbian’s victory. You could argue that fans were disappointed that Federer lost, however when other players have beaten Federer or Nadal, the crowd has not shown the same hostility as shown to Djokovic.
As an impartial viewer, who is a fan of tennis as a whole, rather than a particular player, it irritates me how Djokovic is treated compared with other players.
This is nothing new. Throughout his career, particularly in New York, Djokovic has been in the receiving end of booing, with his unforced errors being applauded. I think many people will look back at the end of Novak’s career with a number of regrets over how they have treated one of the greatest players of all time.
However, it isn’t just the crowds that have treated Djokovic differently to other great champions. At Wimbledon last year, Djokovic played his second round match against Horacio Zeballos on Court 2, despite having won Wimbledon titles more than the likes of Rafael Nadal. It may seem trivial, but I don’t see Wimbledon ever putting the other players in the “big four” on court 2 instead of Centre Court or Court 1.
Most surprisingly, it’s not as if Djokovic has done anything to upset fans or deserve any disrespect. His only crime is being in the same era as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I can understand why Federer and Nadal have more fans, but what I fail to understand is why there is such a large toxicity to Djokovic. Can’t fans be mature enough to applaud all players regardless of whether they support them or not?
Djokovic has now won 16 majors and has established himself as an all time great. Therefore fans around the world should treat him like one. Sunday’s antics seemed to have woken more people up to an issue that has been occurring for many years on the tour.
Rather than being remembered as the guy who wasn’t as popular and respected as other champions, Djokovic deserves to be considered as a player who raised the professionalism of the sport and someone who has raised the level of tennis.
But why do fans not take to Djokovic? Some have accused his style of play as being “Robotic”. He doesn’t have the elegance of Federer’s play or the constant point by point intensity of Nadal. He doesn’t posses the ice cool nature of Bjorn Borg or have the massive serve of Pete Sampras. Yet he is one of the best returners the game has seen and he has the best backhand in men’s tennis. He is also one of the best players under pressure as Sunday’s final proved.
The only player to have been treated in a similar way was Ivan Lendl. Sports Illustrated put a picture of him on the cover of their magazine claiming him to be “the champion that nobody cares about”. Even though journalists haven’t been quite than disrespectful to Djokovic, there is a distinct parallel between him and Lendl. Both being great champions of the game who weren’t given the adulation and crowd support they deserved.
It’s ok if you aren’t a fan of a particular player, but to boo and cheer a player’s mistake has no place in any sport. This is what made Sunday’s behaviour at the All England Club, one of the most prestigious sporting venues in the world, all the more disappointing.
it isn’t a case of popularity. It’s a case of respect.