On verge of surpassing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic still not No. 1 in fans’ hearts | Tennis News
“Like it or not,” the sign said defiantly. “Greatest of all time.”
In fact, not everyone is happy that Djokovic has the opportunity on Sunday to capture his 21st record and break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Throughout his seemingly inexorable march into history, he has remained third behind his longtime rivals in the hearts of many tennis fans.
During his two-week tennis career, the 34-year-old renewed his up-and-down relationship with the New York crowd, taking turns imploring fans for more support and seeming frustrated when he couldn’t get it.
“Obviously, you always want to have the crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible,” he said after his first-round match, when fans got behind his underdog opponent, Danish teenager Holger Rune.
It’s a familiar position for Djokovic, who despite all his praise hasn’t earned the unconditional adulation that Nadal and especially Federer enjoy. In conversations with dozens of fans during the Open, practically all said they preferred the Swiss or the Spanish, even those who admire Djokovic’s play.
“We are enemies of Djoker,” said Brian King, 55, whose Federer cap and jersey, despite Federer not playing in New York, left little doubt about his loyalty.
“When tennis players get stressed, you can see their true personality,” added his wife, Rita King. “When he’s stressed, he acts like an idiot.”
That said, Djokovic heard his loudest cheers of the tournament during his thrilling five-set semi-final loss to German Alexander Zverev, which featured dramatic rallies and excellent shot-taking.
Djokovic is partly a victim of synchronization. When he emerged as a dominant force by sweeping three majors in 2011, Federer and Nadal had won 25 Grand Slam titles between them and wowed generation of fans with one epic battle after another.
“I think Nadal and Federer were legends for too long,” said Kelly Martone, 51, who traveled from Virginia to attend the Open. “Most people don’t want him to break their record.”
Djokovic has gone from intruder to usurper, building a winning record against both men and threatening to surpass what once seemed like a record of impregnable dominance.
A victory in Sunday’s final against 2019 runner-up Daniil Medvedev, the second seed, would also make him the first man to win the majors in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
Some fans said they found Djokovic’s occasionally aggressive demeanor unpleasant – his roaring on the court, his self-confidence and his temper outbursts.
Djokovic has had his share of self-inflicted injuries. Last year, he organized a charity exhibition tour in the Balkans that drew criticism when he and several players contracted the coronavirus. He has declined to say whether he has been vaccinated, stressing that it should be a “personal choice” rather than an obligation.
He was disqualified from last year’s US Open after angrily hitting a ball and accidentally hitting a linesman. This summer, he threw a racket into the stands at the Olympics while crashing in the bronze medal match.
“It’s the most alienating of the Big Three,” said Bob Dorfman, sports marketing analyst at Pinnacle Advertising.
“Some still resent him ‘breaking’ into the Federer-Nadal rivalry, some find his temper unpleasant and many cannot live up to his anti-vaccine stance.”
Djokovic is far behind Federer in endorsements; Over a 12-month period, according to a Forbes analysis last month, he made $ 30 million off the court versus Federer’s $ 90.6 million, though he was ahead of Nadal’s $ 23 million.
Sunday’s win could be worth an additional $ 10 million a year on top of the $ 2.5 million in prize money, Dorfman estimated.
Of course, Djokovic has many fans, especially in his native Serbia, where thousands gave him an enthusiastic welcome in July after he won Wimbledon.
The Novak Djokovic Foundation has raised millions of dollars to support early childhood education, mainly in Serbia, and he and his wife pledged 1 million euros to help the country buy medical equipment to fight COVID-19 last year.
Many of Djokovic’s detractors among fans recognized his brilliance as a player, with some saying they were encouraging history to be made.
“Although he is not my favorite player, I want to see him win,” said Pia Hyvonen, who has attended the Open for years. “He’s a great player. You can’t take that away from him.”
Sunday’s victory could also give Djokovic a chance to reshape his image, said Victor Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross and an expert in sports economics.
“If he’s the GOAT in tennis, maybe he’ll get more of those mainstream commercials where you can act funny and goofy and people like you,” he said, noting how the former LA quarterback’s humorous publicity appearances NFL Peyton Manning helped change their audience. perception.
Early in his career, Djokovic showed a playful side, making impressions of other players to the delight of the crowd.
Djokovic was asked this week what he most wanted people to see in him beyond his numbers and said he hopes to leave a legacy of a good human being.
“For me, those things are more important than the results,” he said. “But you can’t be liked by everyone.”