Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Over a decade and a half, the tennis world has been majorly divided into two sections, ‘Roger Federer fans’ and ‘Rafael Nadal followers’ and the emergence of Novak Djokovic at Australian Open 2008 was perceived as the ‘third-wheel’ in the ‘Fedal Romance.’

John McEnroe elucidated on Novak Djokovic’s respect attribute on the tour, he said, “I think he should embrace the sort of ‘he’s the bad guy’ compared to them. Instead of being like ‘why don’t I get the respect?’ These guys are beloved figures and deservedly so. He’s certainly very highly respected.”

“He’s got to figure out a way to not compare himself as much in terms of popularity. Like when he won Wimbledon. It was one of the great matches, goes to a fifth-set breaker and it didn’t even look like he was happy. It was like ‘screw all of you, I beat him anyway’,” McEnroe added.

While Djokovic in action against Federer or Nadal, most of the spectators in the house are cheering for the Serb’s opponent and despite those negative vibes he manages to defeat them. No matter how many records Djokovic has broken the Serb doesn’t get enough recognition for what he does.

Recently, at US Open 2019, Novak Djokovic retired from the pre-quarterfinal match against Stan Wawrinka and was booed. The top-seed and the defending champion had to halt his venture in the Grand Slam because of the shoulder injury. It was totally acceptable, but the crowd’s reaction was unwelcoming.

Stan Wawrinka
Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, US Open 2019

It’s true that Djokovic’s style of tennis is not as alluring as that of Federer. In general, he is not seen producing the ‘poetry in motion’ style of tennis or hitting the ballet-style single hand backhands. Also, the Serb isn’t as aggressive as the feisty, Nadal who comes up with his hallmark ‘banana shot’ but nevertheless, Djokovic’s defense cannot be emulated by anyone on the ATP Tour.    

From 2011, Djokovic began exercising his dominance on the ATP circuit, Federer vs Nadal Grand Slam finals almost became obsolete. The tennis world did not really appreciate what Djokovic brought in to the sport and despite him being a ‘complete player’, the tennis fans began missing the epic rivalry between Federer and Nadal.

Djokovic has stunned the tennis world since his early twenties. En route to his maiden Slam finals at Australian Open 2008, the Serb snapped Federer’s streak of reaching ten consecutive major finals by eliminating the Swiss in straight sets in the Melbourne major semifinals. That year, after 11 Grand Slams, the tennis world saw a player other than the Goliaths, Federer or Nadal lifting up a major title.

Sometimes during matches, Djokovic loses his temper and rams his tennis racquet on the court. The audience generally does not accept such gestures and traits like these deteriorate Novak’s grade on the tour. The Spaniard maestro, Nadal has never destroyed his tennis racquet and treats it to be his most expensive possession.

However, there are numerous technical qualities that Federer and Nadal do not possess and Djokovic owns them enormously. He is surely the most versatile player on the ATP Tour.

Moreover, despite his amiable characteristics and good sportsmanship spirits, the Serb falls on a lower scale when it comes to favorites of tennis. 

Novak Djokovic
Monte-Carlo Masters 2013

First of all, his mental resilience is one of the underrated weapons in the tennis world. Djokovic had bounced back from a two-sets down dilemma at Grand Slam matches, saved championship points to dethrone the greatest of all times and has defeated a fit eight-time defending champion and the ‘King of Clay’, Rafael Nadal at Monte-Carlo Masters 2013. 

While his tennis career was living through a rollercoaster ride in 2017, Djokovic had almost given up on his tennis and conceived himself on the brink of his career. However, with a single-pointed contemplation on making a comeback, everything started falling in place and Novak once again made and broke a few records in the sport.

When he plays the GOATs, Federer or Nadal, almost everyone in the stadium cheer ‘Come on Roger!’ or ‘Come on Rafa!’ and Djokovic has a powerful ability to mute those chants and simultaneously defeats both of his opponents, one on the court and the other being the crowd. 

Secondly, Djokovic is one of the pleasant guys which tennis has ever had and once upon a time, his mimicry skills were enjoyed extensively by the world outside. Usually, after the painful defeats of his opponents, Djokovic limits his on-court celebrations and respects the emotions of the losing player.

After winning his fifth Wimbledon title in one of the historic matches of tennis, Djokovic’s celebrations were minimal. He didn’t raise his hands after Federer flawed on Djokovic’s championship point, his walk for the handshake over the net was so subtle as it did not seem like a professional tennis player has won a Grand Slam title under the English sky.

It was a tough time for Federer after the two Wimbledon championship points vanished. Djokovic very well knew it was Federer who played better him, but the scoring system of tennis revealed the Serb as the champion. At that time, the champion, Djokovic simply respected the emotions of Federer and kept his on-court celebrations subtle.

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer

Even during the professional matches, Novak Djokovic respects his opponents in the midst of the battle. Djokovic can be portrayed as the eventual epitome of ‘sportsmanship’ and those traits are simply admirable.

For instance, this year at the French Open 2019, Alexander Zverev’s first serve was called out, with Sascha being unhappy with the chair umpire’s judgment, after examining the place of bounce, Djokovic overruled the umpire’s decision and gave Sascha another chance to serve.

In addition to that, Juan Martin del Potro made his comeback this year on the ATP Tour and during the toilsome battle in Rome, the Argentine came up with a smart drop shot against the Serb. Upon losing the point Djokovic simply appreciated the efforts made by Del Potro by exchanging a high-five over the net.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

However, it is unfortunate to realize that, despite the friendly and welcoming nature of the Serbian legend, Novak Djokovic is not regarded as highly as his fellow rivals. Upon having an upper-hand in their head to head account against both Federer and Nadal, he is often seen as the man who gate-crashed into the most eminent rivalries of the sporting world as Federer vs Nadal matches couldn’t take place that often, but truly speaking, Djokovic is the ‘most complete player’ amongst the ‘Big Three’ of tennis.