Vy Vishesh Roy
19 Grand Slam titles in an era where both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are still going strong is a testament to a player’s grit, determination and passion. A look at the number of titles won by Novak Djokovic should be enough to imagine that he would be a darling of the fans.
But he has to battle Federer and Nadal not just on the court, but off it as well because tennis fans love the duo and the Serbian just doesn’t manage to upstage these two legends. While his game is electrifying, he is also able to hold the imagination of the crowd with his ability to rise like a phoenix from any given situation. But the adulation eludes him some way or the other. The same was the case in the finals of the French Open on Sunday where most of the chants were for Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas. Two sets down, it was looking improbable that the 34-year-old Djokovic would be able to make a comeback and win the title, especially since he played a four-set marathon against Nadal on Friday.
But Djokovic being the player he is, not only staged a comeback, but also went on to win the match that lasted for more than four hours. After the match, Djokovic gave his racquet to a little fan, and watching that visual, the thought once again came to mind if the fans could be a little more warm towards the World No.1. It is not like the 34-year-old has never made any mistakes on the court. The world number one has often done some over-the-top antics both on and off the court and maybe that is the reason fans find it hard to keep him on the same pedestal as a Federer or Nadal.
For example, last year, Djokovic made a comment regarding the Covid-19 vaccine where he was quoted as saying: “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to travel.” For a top athlete to say something like this, raises alarm bells. Every top athlete has the responsibility to urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible to combat this deadly virus but Djokovic’s comment was not appropriate and he rightly faced flak.
Last year, Djokovic organised Adria Tour against all advice and participants were seen dancing in bars, they indulged in basketball games, tennis games had fans in attendance and eventually six people, including Djokovic and his wife Jelena, ended up testing positive for Covid-19 and the event had to be cancelled. Coming to on-court indiscipline, Djokovic has had a history of showing his anger on the court. During the 2019 Wimbledon final against Federer, Djokovic smashed his racquet against the umpire’s chair in frustration. The very next year, he broke all protocols by touching the umpire’s chair during the Australian Open final.
A similar incident happened during the 2016 French Open quarter-final where he threw his racquet and he nearly hit the line judge. When one compiles all these incidents, it is understandable why the fans might not like Djokovic, but there is a bigger question in place — cannot these behavioural issues be looked past and the man be celebrated for what he brings to the court? Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title in 2008 when he captured the Australian Open, and thirteen years later, he has 19 Grand Slam titles to his name — one short, of equalling Federer and Nadal’s 20 Grand Slam wins. He surfaced to action when both Nadal and Federer were at their prime, so if you put in that context as well, the Serbian’s achievements look unparalleled.
Nine Australian Open titles, two French Open titles, five Wimbledon titles and three US Open wins are no mean feat. After winning the 2021 French Open, Djokovic became the first player in the Open Era to win all Grand Slams twice. So, it is hard to fathom when fans show hostility towards the player. The antics, the talent on display and the grit demands that the fans take notice and make an exception for he is indeed a maverick. (ANI)