Djokovic: A winner of misfortunes
Roger Federer was world number one once and still loved by thousand others. He enjoys the unparalleled and exceptional support, which is a dream in itself, desired by every rising star.
Probably, this is what Novak Djokovic dreamt of while rising through the elite game. Today, Djokovic is world number one, yet he misses all the crowd support. The audience stands against him and has been doing so for most of his career till now. Why?
Novak Djokovic, 11-time Grand Slam winner, started his professional career in 2003. In 2006, he made it to the top 40 singles ranking after his first quarterfinal appearance at a Grand Slam event (French Open). A year later, he clinched his first Masters title by defeating Guillermo Canas in the final of Key Biscayne. In the same tournament, he first beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals after losing to him at the Indian Wells.
In 2007, during Rogers Cup in Montreal, Djokovic created history by defeating world number three Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, world number two Nadal in the semifinal and world number one Roger Federer in the final. He went on and became the first player to beat these top three ranked players in a single tournament after Boris Becker in 1994. Subsequently in 2008, Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title (Australian Open). It was the first time since 2005 Australia Open that a player other than Federer or Radal had won it.
From 2011 on, the world has only seen Djokovic climb up the game. Apart from setbacks now and then, Djokovic has displayed exceptional standards of tennis.He is considered as one of the greatest player of all times. Djokovic is achieving the dreams he'd seen but to his dismay, he is still unable to win the hearts of the crowd. Yes, he has a fan following but despite being on top, that fandom is not even close to what Federer and Nadal still enjoy. Many wonder why he stands at the situation. There are no certain answers to the question but as one examines, some theories arise.
Federer and Nadal have both seen the epitome of their success, both in terms of game play and fan following. They have built their stardom over time with their flawless tennis display. Though Djokovic has replaced their number one status, they are still very much in the game and do churn out good performances. As they continue to remain in the liveliness of the game, so do their fandom and it is difficult for Djokovic to cut through their support and garner his own. Andy Murray too has his own set of audience because of his British background and of course, his tight and solid game. Though Djokovic leads their head to head battles with 23-9, British reach is much wider and so is Murray’s admirer list.
Djokovic is very expressive on court and is also very passionate and aggressive when it comes to his game. Though he channelizes most of that aggression into his game, at times he has lost his cool. During the final of Rome Masters against Murray, he even threw his racket which bounced over the fence. In an elite game like tennis, such gestures are not welcomed. For instance, cricketer Virat Kohli used to be extremely demonstrative and aggressive on field for which, he got constant flak from critics and fans of the game.
Of course, cricket is a religion in India and as Kohli shows his aggression through his bat, everything else was forgotten. But that may not be the case with the tennis spectators; such actions may be considered as ungracious and disrespectful. Following Djokovic’s violent action on the court, he was even labelled a loser and one who cannot accept defeat courteously.
It is a societal belief that a child’s behaviour reflects on his/her upbringing by his/her parents. In the similar way, a parent’s conduct also determines the environment around his/her child and what a parent says about his/her child and people around him, makes an image of the child too. Djokovic has been a part of a lot of controversies, courtesy his parents. During the 2008 Australian Open Finals between Djokovic and Federer, Djokovic’s parents, from the stands, chanted “The king is dead! Long live the king!” Such words coming out of his parents’ mouth triggered people to turn their back to him.
Again in 2013, Djokovic’s father said, “perhaps Federer is still the best tennis player in history, but as a man he’s the opposite. He attacked Novak at the Davis Cup in Geneva in 2006, after realising that Novak was his successor and was trying to discredit him." Such a statement by Djokovic’s father against a champion like Federer is bound to anger his fans. His father didn’t stop right at Federer, he also criticized Nadal saying, “Nadal was his best friend while he was winning. When things changed, they were no longer friends. It’s not sporting.”
Undoubtedly, Novak’s father has done more damage than good to his public image so much so, an anti-Djokovic campaign was christened. Such igniting behaviour around Djokovic has surely affected his fan base and has prompted dislike towards him.
The world has been battling against racism. Hollywood celebrities too stood against it at the recently held Oscar awards. Tennis has seen a lot of racism victims- Serena Williams and Venus Williams being just two of the many. While the William sisters faced racism due their colour, the Serbian might face a different altercation. Serbia is culturally very different from the socially favoured Europe and is also cut-off politically. Situated in Southeast Europe, Serbia is quite friendly with the Mediterranean countries and this might just play a part in the ideologies of the elite that have a stronghold on the sport of tennis.
Lauren Collins in 2013 wrote in the New Yorker magazine, “one could detect a tinge of cultural superiority in the disapproval that wafted towards Djokovic from the guardians of the game.” She further added, “a suggestion that he was not a real European, an old regime, advertiser-pleasing, tradition-respecting champion in the mode of the feisty Spaniard or the elegant Swiss.”
Just like Serena Williams attracts less support than Maria Sharapova, despite having an upper hand in the game, Novak Djokovic too deals with anti-sentiments of the crowd. There is no tennis stadium in the world where the crowd roots for him. This stands especially true when he is playing against Federer or Nadal. Djokovic is booed and his opponents are cheered irrespective of who is playing against whom. If he faces the likes of Federer or Nadal, the booing is third degree. It might portray a case of political alienation making its way into the elite's game.
It’s only right to say, "the fault is not in him or me. It’s in us." With Djokovic coming of age, both in his sensibility and the game, along with his talents touching new heights, the time when the crowd won’t look beyond his game and stop making him the opposed champion, isn't far.