Novak Djokovic – The Disrespected Champion

Novak Djokovic

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.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. I can remember being very disappointed when Federer started beating Sampras. No one booed Federer so it is tough to understand why Djokovic is not respected a little more. He has become one of my favorite players of all time and I live in the USA. He interviews well and respectfully answers all the questions. He is an excellent example for his native country, Serbia, as well.

    • Totally agree with you, I am Australian, and have followed Novak since he was 21 years old.Novak is such great player to watch,especially to see him live like we have, and he is such a pleasure to watch his beautiful style, and his mental and physical strength on the court. As a player he alway’s has something good to say about the opposition player and has a lot respect for all. It is very sad to see him treated so bad being such a Great champion that he is. I feel ashamed that these bad sports that carry on so bad can be so cruel. To Novak Djkovic, World No1 tennis player 🙁

  2. The answer is simple. Djokovic and Lendl are East Europeans and Federer and Nadal are considered West Europeans. Just racism

    • Exactly! What media used to say about Lendl, now they are saying about Djokovic – no talent just hard work, robotic tennis, and so on.
      But then again, IMHO, Wimbledon crowd (except Rafter-Ivanisevic final) on Sunday’s final was never a measure for anything but snobbery and pretentiousness. Money can’t buy class, as they say.

    • I have been a tennis fan for a very long time. To cut it short, in the last two decades I became a fan of Nadal for his mesmerising game and on and off-court behaviour. He has never, ever broken a racquet. Win or loose he is a gentleman. I also like Federer, Thiem, Aliassime etc to count a few names. While I agree that no player should be booed, neither should a player celebrate his victory by inciting a crowd to applaud himself. Let me count a few reasons I find Djokovic insufferable. First I think his neurotic scrambling game accompanied by murderous looks and racquet breaking is ugly. Secondly, he is not fair-play. His insistence on having the roof closed at the Wimbledon 2018 semi-final against Nadal, his forcing the interruption of the match when he was loosing against Thiem at the 2019 Roland Garros semi-final are just a few cases. Not to talk about his conspiratorial behaviour at the ATP player’s council…Anyway, those who like him can just watch him but they should not expect people who have different standards to like Djokovic.

      • Sorry Huri you have a selective memory my friend .
        Your hero Nadal insisted they came off the court in a French open final as the conditions were not to his liking. .
        Novak was asked question did he want to continue with roof closed .
        He said yes . Can’t see issue with that . Nadal while never breaking a racket for which he should be applauded uses every trick going . He always takes a toilet break everytime he loses first set
        He never plays to server speed . Holding up his opponent at every opportunity and then if an umpire calls him on it refuses to let him umpire any of his matches. So before your ordaine Rafa as saint rafa you might give this thought we all ignore our own favorite failings and highlight those we don’t like .

    • Nonsense about east and west. Lendl and Navratilova were among my favourite players. If anything, because they played during times of virulent anti-communism they did benefit from some international sympathy, never mind what sports illustrated writes. Simona Halep, with whom Djokovic could not be bothered to dance after having won the Wimbledon trophy this year, is from Eastern Europe. Djokovic danced with German Kreber last year. Snub the Romanian, dance with the German. Who is the racist here? Having won against crowd favourite Williams, Simona Halep was applauded by the Wimbledon crowd, simply because she is a likeable person, which Djokovic is not. So, stop with these double standards

      • You idiot . If he has danced you would be saying it was a pr exercise .simone Publically stated she didn’t want to dance . He was a gentleman not to force her to and they sat and chatted at same table all night Novak is a very likeable loke all of us he has flaws but by god is he a champion

  3. Yes, good analysis. It’s a bit sad to see the clueless morons applauding double faults; unfortunately it seems to be spreading beyond its origins in certain European countries ( as well as being something of a tradition at Flushing Meadows, although never at Forrest Hills).
    Djokovic is far more personable than Lendl ever was, and has a more rounded game. I can understand why he is not ‘loved’ in the way Federer is, but it’s a bit of a mystery why he is less popular than Nadal ( an irascible one surface wonder)

  4. Thank you Mr. Lang for pointing out what Novak’s fans are too aware of and being a journalist of impartial integrity. Isn’t it ironic that the American and British fans and their media, loved Novak’s humor and impersonations and begged for more until he started to win against Federer and Nadal Npw they cite this as a reason to dislike him! ( LAME EXCUSES). The fact that media tries to bring up stories and controversy before every big tourney to disrupt Novak is ridiculous. The fact that Novak has had to overcome so many hardships through his early years and the continued disrespectful treatment makes his accomplishments even more amazing!

  5. You are very welcome to like and respect Novak Djokovic. I do not, Whilst no one can argue he is an excellent player, I have no time for his on court antics when things are not going his way. Uttering profanities at his box, racquet smashing. Not my sort of sportsman. Can you wonder why the general public have more time and regard for Federer and Nadal? I too enjoy tennis as a game and there are very few players I do not like. (Djokovic and Kyrios being the two exceptions.) I enjoy watching the Next Generation progressing as well as watching today’s greats. There is just something about Djokovic and also Ivan Lendl that makes it impossible to warm to them.

    • I’m sure you are as fed up of Andy Murray because he utters profanities at his box and smashed racquets too. Right? This excuse is getting old.

    • Pat, I am not sure what antics you are referring to. Even ice cold players like Federer snap, drop the occasional F-bomb and smash their rackets. How does Djokovic handle defeat? He always genuinely and heartily congratulates his opponent, and credits them for their wins. He is admittedly emotional, but how is that a bad thing?

  6. I get fed up of hearing about what Djokovic went through during the Balkans war. Get over it. Many people have gone through much worst. I am a child of World War Two. We do not all keep bellyaching about it. Get over it.

    • Please your world war two is nothing compared to NATO bombing a country for 78 days idiot. America was never carpet bombed like what NATO did to Serbia. It’s like Russia starts bombing USA for 78 days straight. We’ll see how you like it.

      • Are you simple? Have you never heard of the London Blitz in World War 2? Started on 7th September, 1940, finished on 24th May 1941. Bombarded for 8 months. 40,00 people killed. When you say World War 2 was nothing shows your ignorance.

      • Whose Serbian lies are you telling? During the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Serbs made the biggest atrocities imaginable. If there is any reproaching to be made to NATO especially its French troops, it is that they did not protect civilian especially Muslim populations of Sarajevo from the Serbian murderers, rapists and looters. The most notorious murderers since Nazi Germany such as Vladic were protected and have never payed for their crimes. So no former Yugoslav especially no Serb has any right to this sob rhetoric.

        • I am not sure where to start with this post. But let’s try:
          1. As horrific as the break up of the former Yugoslavia was (and Serbs bear a lot of responsibility for what did take place), the destruction of life seen in the Balkans in the 1990’s pales in comparison to what happened earlier in the 20th Century and in particular, the two World Wars where Serbian casualties were in the 7 figures in both wars. And just in case you think I am being hyperbolic, find me another example in history where a concentration camps were created for an enemy’s children only as it was for Serbian and Jewish children in WWII in the Croatian Nazi puppet state;
          2. if NATO and the West were so concerned about civilian lives in Bosnia, why scuttle a peace plan agreed to by all three sides before the war that would have guaranteed an sovereign Bosnian state independent from the remainder of Yugoslavia with no fighting, killing, displacement etc.? and the political structure and cantons envisaged in the Cutiliero Plan for Bosnia are eerily similar to what we now have, yes? only we now have enmities in the region due to the war that cannot be overcome… bravo all involved
          3. Karadzic, Mladic, Plavsic, Krajisnik, Krstic, Pandurovic, Lukic etc. have all been tried and sentenced in the Hague. I cannot think of a single leading political or military leader from the Bosnian Serbs not to be tried and sent away.
          Do better next time.

  7. Reminded me of watching Rocky 4 only with a better ending!
    The media paints out Eastern European nations in an unpleasant way in particular the British and US, interestingly enough Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows is where Djokovic receives the most hostility and disrespect.
    Djokovic has handled himself well in that he has resisted a lot of provocation and maintained the highest level of professionalism and is liked on circuit by his fellow competitors bar the racists.
    Idemoooo

  8. I consider Djokovic to be the most human of the three. The man wears his heart on his sleeve and wills himself to victory where others have demonstrably crumbled. Perhaps it is elitism, or maybe simply the realisation that Djokovic has exceeded the preeminent favourites so comprehensively. The man has distinguished himself through sheer determination, and that merits admiration more than aesthetic appeal or brute force.

  9. First they said he will never make it to the top. When he got there, they said – he will not stay on top, this is a fluke and one off. He stayed there anyway. When he broke many records, they said – we don’t like his style of play, he is “robot-like”. But he redefined how the game was played anyway. When he fell from the top, they said – he will never come back again. He proved them wrong again and again. Even when he will (likely) brake most (all!) of the existing records, they will still not “like him or love him”. “Too arrogant, too conceited”, they say. He came late to the party, as a ‘third fiddle’ – becoming a party pooper, overshadowing the first ‘two fiddles’ in the process! We will not love him ever (we just hate him…for really no good reason, some spitefully say)…but that speaks more about them than him!

    Life is not only a popularity or likability contest. One of the notorious life lessons is that not everybody will like you, or love you, no matter what. The road to greatness is not always paved with unquestionable love and adoration – but respect is earned with every step, every achievement, through hard work, dedication, integrity, self-belief. Whether you “like or love” somebody, does not really matter, when all is said and done! When the books are closed, the final balance will speaks for itself. Respect – in the first place! As for us who saw him when he was ‘nobody’, trashing world’s #3, 2, and 1 (Roddick, Nadal and Federer) over a weekend at the ATP in Montreal 2007, we loved him and respected him Novak ever since, for a kind of champion and human being he is!

  10. Excuse me whilst I am sick. If you want to romanticise Djoko, who am I to stop you.? We all have our little foibles. Where is Pepe these days.? Helping Djoko on his spiritual journey?Love his “wonderbra” act, thrusting and trying to make himself loved. What do you know of World War Two?. Take some history lessons.

  11. When the Big three eventually hang their rackets (and I hope they won’t do it so soon), the only thing that’ll count is the results. Right now is 20-18-16. This will and should change and we should just enjoy good matches without being biased.
    Thank you for a great article sir.

  12. Djokovic is a fine player. Unfortunately he is also a bit of a whiner. It started when he went to every tournament with his parents. They seemed to push him to have a combative attitude. Especially when matches seems to have a Davis Cup feel and they all wore Serbian flag shirts. His “health issues” were another concern. There were months when he’d bail from matches or take unnecessary medical time outs when matches we not going his way. Jumping around to a half dozen coaches recently doesn’t improve his image either. Becker and Agassi tried to work with him. Djokovic seems to need cost adulation and praise like a chlld. Federer is a great champion, he does not whine. He speaks numerous languages and respects the crowd(s). The people’s champion and the GOAT no question. Sorry Novak.

    • Agassi tried to work with Djokovic? LOL! Agassi, whom I really respect by the way, had way too many obligations and priorities to coach Djokovic. As for Becker, he coached Djokovic for over 3 years, they won 6 majors together, and their relationship was rock solid. They parted ways because they had different visions for the future.

      Djokovic speaks 4 languages by the way.

      Djokovic is not s whiner. He is temperamental to be sure, and he shows his emotions, but when he loses, he does not resort to excuses. He heartily congratulates the victor and praises the winner in the press conference.

      • For years Roger didn’t even have or need a coach. Novok can’t seem even keep the same one and falls back on Marian his childhood coach.

        Recall perception of Djokovix also worsened at the 2008 Australian Open when Djokovic defeated Federer, the defending champion, in the semifinals. Nole’s parents, seemingly always decked out in gear that celebrated their son’s wonderfulness, chanted, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” More contempt crashed down on Djokovic, as many observers found the player’s-box celebration disrespectful to the Swiss great and flat-out boorish.

        Fans love Roger for a reason – the same reason Roger sponsors Rolex and Mercedes high end – classy.
        Sure, no dispute Djokovic is a great player. Just a bad attitude.

        • There is no one set standard applied equally because we that apply them bring our own points of view, biases, (mis)perceptions, knowledge or lack thereof etc. to it. Me included. For example, Djokovic to this day (see Kyrgios’ podcast and in the above comments) is criticised for retiring from matches early in his career and yet Federer pulled out of the World Tour Final in 2014 against Djokovic stating: “Unfortunately I’m not match fit to play the match tonight,” the 33-year-old said. “Clearly I wish it wasn’t this way. You try all year to be ready for the ATP World Tour Finals and I didn’t want to end this way. I tried everything I could last night and today – painkillers, rest – until the very end but I can’t compete at this level with Novak. In a final like this and at my age it would be too risky. I hope you understand.” So, the only time a final of the World Tour Finals did not take place was because Federer did not believe he could compete with Novak… I do not believe people would have been as forgiving and forgetful of this episode if the reverse had happened and Novak had withdrew because he did not believe he could compete with Federer

          • Because what was a very rare event for Federer, to withdraw before or retire during a match, for Djokovic was a real tactic in so many occasions in his career.
            Shouting, screaming and cursing, tearing his shirt and pounding his chest in a gorilla style will never make of him the classy and elegant champion he keeps trying to convince himself and others that he is.

  13. It’s the perception, deeply rooted and carried over from one generation to another, from one education system reform to another, that “we” are “better” than “them”. That is the real reason.

    “We” are usually found in large numbers in countries and regions that have prospered over other countries’ misery, through frequent or constant invasions and looting, destruction, cultural and political and physical and metaphorical rape, and so on. “We” are nourished mostly in systems that profited from slavery, racism, bigotry, prejudices of all sorts; systems that profited from stealing, theft, and murder; systems that instilled apartheid; systems that developed propaganda tricks far better than its rivals.

    “We” are frequently found in countries that claim WW1 and WW2 were about Germans (or Austrians) and German Nazism and German this or that (which may have been a part of the outcome, but surely not the cause of all the nightmare the world had seen back then). People were taught to accept lies and simplified views.

    For some, the so called “world war” was about survival – they were attacked and their life physically threatened, so they needed to defend themselves. That’s the category in which both Novak Djokovic’s Serbia (Yugoslavia) and Ivan Lendl’s Czechoslovakia fall.

    For some countries, the so call “world war” was about preserving the loot across the world and to deter others who wanted some of it. Say you looted in Africa, or Middle East, or Latin America; it was usually called colonialism. Now someone else wants part of your loot. You don’t want to share your colonies and slaves and rape victims, you don’t want to share Libyan or Iraqi or Syrian oil, so you eventually end up in war. You make alliances, they make alliances, and off you go to a war. Along the way you get everyone else involved, promise a bit more freedom or concessions to those “peasants” whose help you might need to win the war (“peasants” can again be Djokovic’s Serbia and Lendl’s Checkia, or can be any of your African or Middle Eastern colonies), and off we all go to war.

    “Better” is never defined more than “what suits our agenda to make us feel more worthy of good life than any of you others”.

    “They” is anyone who doesn’t agree with our views, plus those that we don’t consider likeable enough, those not in “our club” of nations – and this snobbery “club” can shrink or expand as needed and per occasion.

    And a short lesson about Yugoslavia… The breakup started after the end of part one of the cold War, after Germany united (something that was celebrated across Yugoslavia as a normal human need), after USSR bloc started collapsing, and after Yugoslavia (which was the only country not in Warsaw pact and not in USSR bloc) was seen as a good model for the post-Soviet socialist countries and an alternative for them becoming Western Europe’s eastern cheap labour colony. Old fascists and terrorists gathered together, those imprisoned in the days of Yugoslavia and those who ran terrorist chauvinist groups around the world, UK and US intelligence agencies and “think tanks” got involved, weapons from East Germany was shipped to terrorist and illegal groups of unemployed men in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, future war criminals declared unconstitutional independence of their chunks of Yugoslavia, accused those who followed the rule of law of being lawless and accused those who obeyed the constitution to be the tyrants and terrorists, painted the white black and black white, were assisted with massive propaganda machine based in the US and UK mostly, then Germany, Australia, Western Europe, and then the war started and developed into a hell.

    Of course, “we” needed to pin the blame on someone, and, conveniently, we chose Serbs and Montenegrins, as those were the last ones standing for Yugoslavia and against Yugoslavian wars and destruction. Serbs were also the most tolerant and they were either atheist (mostly at the time in urban parts of Serbia) or Orthodox Christians (in the rest of Yugoslavia). Croatian were Catholic Christians, therefore helped (again, like in the WW2 when it became a puppet fascist state) by the vatical and by the newly united Germany. Ah, the irony… In the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there were approximately 40 percent Serbs, 40 percent Muslims (that was the name of the nation, newly proclaimed in 1960s), and approximately 20 percent Croatians. (Real numbers were fluctuating around that, last census in 1991 in Yugoslavian Bosnia and Herzegovina (before the war) was approx. 39 percent Serb, 43 percent Muslim, 18 percent Croatian). Serbs owned 55 percent of the land. In WW2, Muslims killed Serbs and Jews and Gypsies and “cleared” Sarajevo and other regional towns and centers of Serbs.

    Muslim nation was renamed, by a skilled US thunk tank and propaganda company, to Bosnians, while the country’s name (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was commonly shortened in the media and in the political jargon to only “Bosnia” – so now you have “Bosniaks” living in “Bosnia” and everyone else all of a sudden sounds like an invader or illegal immigrant.

    Last president of the Yugoslavian Bosnia and Herzegovina was Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim who was imprisoned during Tito’s communist party rule for inciting national and religious hatred, most clearly visible in Izetbegovic’s “Islamic Declaration” (for which he was imprisoned in 1970s) and in which he states that where Muslims live – no one else end non-Muslim can or should exist. That same Alija Izetbegovic started a terrorist group and a political party, and soon started a full blown war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When Izetbegovic was warned by the then political leader of the Serbs in B&H (Radovan Karadzic), during one of the most cited sessions of the presidency, that what all that nationalism and terrorism will draw the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina in war and that the war would the biggest threat to Muslims themselves simply because of the geographic reality (local Croats would be turn against Serbs and Muslims and fight to join the neighbouring Croatia, local Serbs would turn against Croats and Muslims and fight to join the neighbouring Serbia, and Muslims would be left to fight for an independent Islamic State in the heart of Europe and on the ruins of Yugoslavia), the Western media claimed Serbs threatened the Muslims. And so the war started and was bloody and ridiculous beyond what you know or can imagine.

    The history was then re-written by the winners and the media they possess and control.

    Novak Djokovic is a Serbian tennis player who flatly refused US citizenship. Unlike Monica Monika) Seles who accepted it after the sanctions on Yugoslavia and became a US citizen after she was stabbed in the back at a tournament in Germany and later competed under the US flag, Novak flatly said no. So then you have a Serb slowly making progress to become number one in a sport the whole world watches… Of course the powerful didn’t want that to happen. The smearing campaign was launched and it’s sometimes subtle, sometimes it’s direct…

    Take Jim Courier for example, his commenting on Novak Djokovic’s matches. When playing against Federer or Nadal, no matter if Djokovic wins or loses, its all about the greatness of Federer, the strength of Nadal, the gracious moves of Federer, the achievements of both Federer and Nadal; on the other hand, when commenting on Djokovic, it’s always some dubious popular psychology coming out of Courier’s mouth: that Djokovic must be having doubts, that he’s struggling mentally, that he’s down, or simply ignoring Djokovic and commenting on any random tennis player from the history of tennis.

    There is always glorifying Federer and Nadal (and Murray), which is fine for the sake of the game, and then there is BS “psychoanalysis” of Djokovic and misdirection blab about random history of tennis.

    Now imagine millions of ordinary people who watch tennis at their homes, perhaps those 1-4 matches being all they watch, 3-4 times a year (usually the main tournaments, depending on the time zones, holidays, children and family circumstances that allow people to watch tennis, etc.). There you have someone glorifying Federer and Nadal, and disparaging Djokovic. Add to that the fact that the Swiss is from a country that builds the aura of beauty of its nature (mountains) and its banking and chocolate, the Spaniard is from a country that you know of through culture and language and tradition (and colonialism), and then you have this Serb dude Djokovic whose country of origin is the one being demonized more than North Korea and Iran and Russia since 1990s onward.

    Of course we are all primed to not like Djokovic.

    So if you do happen to like him – you’re in a minority. Good on you, you’ve beaten the media brainwashing at least in that one segment! Congratulate yourself for this significant victory of your brain over the external machinery, even if you were not aware of this victory of yours.

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