Often times Novak Djokovic has to place a hand over his ear to encourage the crowd to cheer him on.
He has won a record 20 men’s Grand Slam titles and is number one in the world with astonishing physical condition, but he is also one of the most polarizing figures in tennis.
The 34-year-old Serbian player was held this week in a government detention hotel in Australia, pending the outcome of his latest controversy, after his visa was revoked in Melbourne when he arrived to defend his Open champion title. from Australia.
A court will decide on Monday whether to deport you, but whether you win or lose your appeal, This week’s events have made him an even more divisive player.
How did that child who had to stay in a shelter during the 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade become a player who has had to fight to win the hearts of so many people around the world?
“You can’t make people love you”
When Djokovic faced Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final, the epic encounter was marred by boos against the Serb.
His failures were applauded and booed in a sectarian atmosphere more typical of soccer stadiums than tennis courts.
Djokovic saved match points and ended up prevailing in the final, as experts asked fans to show more respect for a great player.
It’s hard to know exactly why they didn’t – it’s true, the hugely popular Federer has a number of fans like no other player, but Djokovic is also one of the greats in the sport.
“You can’t make people love you and that’s been the situation a bit, “his former coach Boris Becker told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.
“He is a good young athlete with the right attitude and the proper character, he just has a different view of life. He has a different view of how he eats, how he drinks, how he sleeps. That is where you cannot criticize him. Maybe that’s the point. reason why he’s so successful, but he not someone that everyone likesI get it, “he said.
Does your way of celebrating annoy people? Djokovic gives an extravagant salute to the four corners of the court in appreciation. Does that irritate when you’ve been booing him?
Or maybe the problem has been his behavior on the court in the past? He has been repeatedly accused by players of exaggerating injuries.
In 2008, Andy Roddick mocked Djokovic by suggesting that among the many ailments that plagued the Serb at the US Open could be bird flu, anthrax and SARS.
Or is it his outbursts of anger on the court? The most infamous of them ended with his expulsion from the 2020 US Open when in a fit of rage he threw a ball against a wall and accidentally hit a linesman.
His tirades with referees and ball boys over the years have also contrasted with the calmer demeanors of his closest rivals, Federer and Nadal. The word “arrogant” is never far from the lips of its critics.
It can be a mix of everything, but what’s happened off the pitch is also worth considering.
“Well-intentioned” or “selfish”?
Djokovic received a lot of criticism early in the pandemic when he was among several players who tested positive for COVID-19 on the Adria Tour, an exhibition tournament organized by Djokovic in which players did not have to socially distance themselves and were even seen hugging in network.
While the lockdown rules in Croatia had been relaxed by that time, there was still no vaccine against the coronavirus. Britain’s Dan Evans called it “a bad example” and Australian Nick Kyrgios described it as a “foolish decision.”
Djokovic later apologized, saying it was “too early” to hold the event, but said he did so out of “a pure heart” and “good intentions”.
A year ago, he sparked frustration again when he asked Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley to relax quarantine rules, including suggestions such as reducing isolation periods and moving quarantined players to private homes with courts. tennis.
One more time, Djokovic justified himself with references to his “good intentions” and said his letter had been “misinterpreted as selfish, difficult and ungrateful.”
A spiritual and passionate Serbian who wants to please
Good intentions are the principle behind his Novak Djokovic Foundation, which builds pre-schools and supports teacher training in Serbia to provide “children from impoverished areas the opportunity to learn and play in a safe, creative and enriching environment” and is inspired by the tennis player’s childhood, marked by war.
His country is at the heart of his motivation, as playing for his national team alongside the Grand Slams are his most important sporting goals. He also loves handing out rackets to young fans in the crowd.
Djokovic fans – and you only need to be in one Serbian Davis Cup tie to know there are plenty – celebrate the fact that he has achieved great success in an era where two other greats have also been playing: Federer and Nadal.
A highly spiritual person who practices yoga and meditation and follows a plant-based diet, Djokovic once attributed his successful return to the courts in 2018 – which resulted in back-to-back Grand Slam titles – to a five-day mountain hike with his wife. .
Nicknamed “The Joker” early in his career, due to the fact that he used to make humorous imitations of his fellow players, too. is someone who is desperate to please.
Djokovic has never had the level of support that Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain enjoy, especially at Grand Slams, and particularly at the US Open, where he has at times encountered hostile audiences.
While he has often downplayed the boos, he couldn’t hide his tears at last year’s US Open final when he said that, Although he had lost the game, he was “the happiest man alive” because of the love he felt from the crowd.
Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast that there had been “unfair treatment” of Djokovic over the years, and that the tennis player “often made mistakes that fueled criticism.”
“But sometimes the things he’s done that are very positive just aren’t mentioned often enough.”
The love he may have won in New York evaporated this week in Australia, when many locals were enraged that Djokovic, who has said he opposes COVID-19 vaccination, received a medical exemption from two independent medical panels organized by Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria.
Australians have had to endure some of the toughest restrictions in the world – many are still unable to travel between states or internationally – and they interpreted the situation as if Djokovic was being given special treatment.
The tennis player was held at Melbourne airport for several hours before border officials announced that he had not complied with entry rules related to the exemption, and his participation in the Australian Open was left to a court.
The debate about whether or not he will be in the Australian tournament in the end had dominated the preseason and, although many have questioned their opposition to vaccination, the way he announced he was on his way has been seen as possibly damaging to his own image.
Posting a message on social media saying he had been granted a medical exemption without giving the reasons justifying it left fans, local residents, politicians and other tennis players who will participate in the competition wanting to get answers.
This Saturday, Djokovic’s lawyers indicated through court documents that the exemption was based on a covid-19 infection that would have been diagnosed with a PCR on December 16.
That information, however, raised many doubts, as on December 17 Djokovic posted images on Twitter of his appearance without a mask at a ceremony in which he was honored with his own Serbian postage stamps in recognition of his achievements.
According to the AFP news agency, also on December 17 he posed without a mask with young players at the Novak tennis center.
If he wins his deportation appeal this Monday and can compete for his 10th Australian Open and 21st Men’s Grand Slam title, he will most likely be booed by the local fans who have dubbed him “Novax” (a pun in English that refers to the fact that he is not vaccinated) and, at the same time, that he is applauded by those who have gathered these days to show support outside the hotel where he is being held.
And if you lose the appeal, you will likely place your hand next to your ear again at your next event.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.