Novak Djokovic’s 20th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon on Sunday saw him go level with tennis’ two other modern greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as the most successful men’s singles players of all time. But while Djokovic is their equal in terms of success on the court, he doesn’t really get a share of the supporters’ love.
Many of the fans who look beyond the stats alone and search for the personalities tend to side with Federer and Nadal, who seem to have more of the qualities that the fans can get behind. The Serbian, on the other hand, has had a tough time winning over the crowds, perhaps partly as a result of him being a victim of circumstance, entering the fray at the height of Nadal and Federer’s competitive rivalry. With affiliations having already been staked in the great Rafa v Roger battles, Djokovic spent a long time being little more than an after-thought for many.
And that inability to get the crowd onside has stuck in the craw of Djokovic throughout his career. Even on Sunday as he came from behind to beat Matteo Berrettini for his sixth Wimbledon triumph, Djokovic showed signs of dissatisfaction at large numbers of supporters chanting the Italian’s name when they could have been willing the Serbian on to Grand Slam history.
For some spectators, Djokovic has been the hard-to-love, stony-faced alternative to the more outgoing Federer. The Swiss legend has always been gracious in defeat and humble in victory, and his interviews and dealings with his fans have always been appreciated by fans. That is not to say that Djokovic doesn’t have his gentler side, with his decision to gift one of his rackets to a young member of the crowd after Sunday’s win showing he is by no means as emotionless as some would have you believe.
But what hinders his positive public image is his tantrums on court when things are not going his way. In the men’s final at the Australian Open last year, Djokovic got very angry at the crowd for cheering his opponent’s points, and he was caught on camera saying: “Shut the f*** up.” In the same match he kept arguing with the umpire over decisions, and he sarcastically congratulated the official for making himself famous. He also tapped the umpire’s shoe twice after an interval, for which he was only later cleared rather than slapped with a heavy penalty.
Djokovic has also been known for his letting his anger getting the better of him, and last year it got him disqualified from the US Open after he hit a female line judge in the neck with a ball he had aggressively hit in frustration at losing a point. He immediately apologised but the damage had already been done and his tournament was over.
It is situations like that which have stopped the 34-year-old from expanding his support base. Compared to Federer and Nadal, his is generally a hotter head in the heat of battle, giving him the persona of a spoilt child in some people’s eyes.
Djokovic is a fantastic tennis player, a fact which he has proved time and time again, but he definitely needs to work more on his PR if he is ever to become as loved as the two greats he stands on the verge of eclipsing in the record books.