Novak Djokovic Is The Undisputable G.O.A.T. Now He Wants To Be Embraced By Crowd

Wins, he has many; lovers, very few.

He has more grand slams than any man in the history of tennis. He has spent most weeks as the number one-ranked player. He is the only man in the Open Era to win every major at least twice. He also holds the distinction of holding all four grand slams at the same time. Currently, he is fighting for his record-extending 24th grand slam, in a city that is not quite fond of him, a city that gave him the biggest embarrassment three years ago by disqualifying him for accidentally hitting a lineswoman, a city where he wasn’t permitted to enter until last year. Yes, Novak Djokovic is in New York; taking one step at a time towards his ultimate destination. 

Last night he ruthlessly dismantled the concept of Taylor Fritz, the homeboy who played, or rather compelled to play, like a drunkard chasing wind on a stormy night, stumbling and hobbling before the realisation dawned that it’s futile to do anything. It was one of those nights for Fritz, who is a genuinely skillful player. But there’s only so much you can do if the man on the other side of the net is playing like a dream, crushing the best effort you could come up with such presumptuous ease. 

Djokovic won, much to the dismay of the crowd. But there’s nothing new in that. All his victories are unpopular, received with muted, begrudging applause, and that too only because jeering for a winner will make you look like a fool. Djokovic says he doesn’t really like crowd involvement in the game. It adds extra pressure, and mess up your basic instinct. After going two sets up rather quickly on Tuesday, Djokovic became even more determined to close off the game, because allowing Fritz to sneak out a set here would bring the crowd even more into the game, making it a “more difficult task for him to handle”. 

I’m not saying Djokovic is a liar— he may be, who knows! But it’s hard to take this statement at face value. His entire career has been an exercise in feeding off the fan’s hatred. Hissing and booing—when did it ever bother him? There’s no empirical evidence yet but hardly any tennis would disagree with the notion that he feeds off the negative energy, transforming the resentment into strength, in a mysterious way. 

Novak Djokovic goat

Djokovic, in his relationship with the crowd, stands in stark contrast to Federer and Nadal. While the latter have always been pretty popular among casual and seasoned fans alike, Djokovic’s entire career is an act played out against hostile, partisan fans. It’s not easy to hold your nerves when the entire house wants you to lose. The Serb, however, has shown incredible tenacity to remain unfazed. When his job is successfully done, there’s always a little, unwiped smirk on his face, as if to say “Now I am Death, the Destroyer of your favourite player you were rooting for”. 

If you’d ask Djokovic to trade off a few of his wins for more love, he might happily agree to it. Wins, he has many; lovers, very few. In modern dating parlance, breadcrumbing has become a thing. It’s when you do just the bare minimum to keep your lover interested, just enough to keep their interest in you, showing erratic and sporadic interest to not let things fall apart. Your actions are often inconsistent and befuddling. Djokovic shares the same kind of relationship with the tennis fans. They do cheer for him occasionally, unhesitatingly giving a mark of respect when he wins, but are always hesitant to embrace him with open arms. He isn’t entirely blame-free either. Most recently, during the pandemic, Djokovic irked many with his stance on vaccination, rooted in science denialism. He became the messiah of anti-vax community. 

But for once Djokovic would love to know what it feels like to enter the arena when the entire universe is rooting for you to succeed. The joy of being the most loved man in the house. Knowing that they came here to see you win at any cost. Expectations surely add weight to your shoulders, and Novak is renowned for thriving in such pressure situations, but this will be a different kind of pressure, not the kind he is so accustomed to. This is not to say Djokovic has never experienced love on the court, but not the kind of unconditional, unfettered love that his greatest rivals were often showered with. 

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