Novak Djokovic is an incredibly unlucky man. There is a total amount of zero doubt that when Djoker Nole steps away from tennis several years from now, he will go down not just as a legend of the game, but as an icon of modern sport.
It will be very surprising if by the time he bows out he hasn’t surpassed both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the list of male tennis players with the most Grand Slams. Yet he continues to attract more negative press than flowery praise.
In a sense, Djokovic has found himself an unfortunate victim of circumstances. For starters, the Serbian is widely regarded as not being as charming, or as lovable as his contemporaries at the summit of the world of tennis.
Where Federer and Nadal won a horde of fans for themselves through scintillating grace on the court and supreme class off it, Djokovic has earned his through spectacularly effective performances. He has been, quite unfairly, labelled as someone that lacks the charisma of either Federer or Nadal.
He has come to be seen as a sort of gate-crasher to the FeDal party. A boring, uninvited guest to the high table. Of course, this perception is utter rubbish.
Djokovic is just as talented as the two men alongside whom he has dominated world tennis for over a decade. If anything, he might even be a better player than the two are, or rather were in their prime, considering how quickly he has covered the considerable ground between them and other male tennis players in terms of a grand slam haul.
But the fact of the matter is that in any comparison with them, he starts the play literally a whole set down. In every matchup against them, he is the quintessential villain, the Djoker to the FeDal Batman. It doesn’t help that the two have joined hands in opposition to the new Professional Tennis Players Association, of which he is the flag bearer.
Novak Djokovic is just as talented as the two men alongside whom he has dominated world tennis for over a decade
It is a scriptwriter’s dream that Federer and Nadal are assuming the position of the conservative royals who favour the ATP, with Djokovic representative of the revolutionaries interested in better governance and more player power.
Much of the criticism levelled at him is his apparent lack of humility and disregard for law and order. This year alone, he was widely criticized for being the driving force behind the controversial Adria Tour in Croatia and his native Serbia after which he, and three other players tested positive for coronavirus.
He was accused of being selfish and reckless for staging it during a pandemic, and not following any SOPs. But the truth on the ground is that one; it was done with a humanitarian goal, as proceeds would go to charity, which discounts the first accusation and two; at the time, there weren’t tight coronavirus restrictions in the countries where it was held.
So really, what he did wasn’t as out of order as if was made to appear. It is just that his profile is always bound to attract bad press. In short, he is like a bigger, better more infinitely talented version of Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios, who, ironically, has been at the forefront of the crowd baying for Djokovic’s blood.
On to his recent disqualification at the US Open. Going into the tournament at which both Federer and Nadal would not be present, the world number one was the outstanding favourite.
Again, rightly so. In today’s game, there are very few people, if any at all who can lay a glove on him. This much is obvious in the 26 matches winning streak ended by the fourth round default. The circumstances of his default themselves point at a man followed by bad luck everywhere.
In hitting the line-judge with the ball, there clearly couldn’t have been any malice or pre-meditated intent. He wasn’t even looking where he aimed the loose ball. Djokovic’s only crime was momentarily losing his grip on the frustration he was enduring after wasting three breakpoints, which combined with a hefty pinch of bad fortune, and ended with the line judge being injured.
This sentiment is captured perfectly by Dominic Thiem who rightly opined that had the ball been just a few centimetres off target, the default might not have happened. To hit her in the throat, causing her even more discomfort and destroying any credence in Djokovic’s defence only served to sharpen the issue of Djokovic’s luck.
Essentially, it was more evidence that as gifted as Djokovic is, he seems to have a problem warding off the trouble that seems intent on following him everywhere on his seemingly unstoppable journey to the pinnacle.
Djokovic once again received heavy criticism from all corners of the world, with some analysts proceeding to jump onto his swift departure from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre without fulfilling his media duties as a sign of his petulance and arrogance.
They accused him of lacking class, insisting that the right thing to do would have been to hold a press conference and publicly apologise to the line judge and to the US Open as an organisation.
The fact that he issued an apology on his official Instagram account was not as acknowledged as the criticism and allegations of his petulance. When the #NoleFam, Djokovic’s devoted army of fans cyber-harassed the injured judge, accusing her of over-reacting, their actions were put at his feet.
As if he could single-handedly police their behaviour. The fact that he went on to implore them to support, rather than abuse her, was also conveniently missed by his sea of critics. It didn’t fit with the agenda of him lacking class.
Of course, this isn’t to say he should be exempted of any criticism. After all, he is a professional veteran who should be exhibiting more maturity than he has, at times, something he himself realizes and admits.
But there does seem to be a certain agenda targeting him. Part of this must be down to large sections of the media, and the tennis world at large viewing him as the FeDal challenger who will never really be welcome.
In any other era, Djokovic would likely have accumulated more goodwill and not be as victimized. His main fault is that he dared to and actually succeeded at disrupting the order at the apex of the tennis pyramid, which doesn’t sit well with the romantics who believed that it was reserved for the two men he constantly gets antagonized against.
The bad news for them is that this is far from the last time the world number one enters a tournament as favourite or indeed, the top seed. At 33, there is, quite conceivably, at least half a decade of dominance for DjokerNole. The detractors had better tighten their belts.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.