Novak Djokovic is one of the most polarizing figures in tennis history, a great player yet somebody who will always divide opinions on various matters.
Novak Djokovic is a great tennis player, certainly one of the best to play the game and arguably, according to many, the best to have ever stepped on a tennis court. Even so, he's not the most popular, he's not the one which people associate with the golden days of tennis and he's always been somewhat of an outcast.
The outcast tag is a great one, especially when you take the general consensus among tennis fans because he's always been viewed as a nuisance. Everybody was super happy with two uncontroversial and beloved superstars of the game going head to head for two decades but then came he. The eternal underdog did what he does best and disrupted the balance by being himself to a fault.
All he did was play tennis and he became the villain in pretty much every corner of the world for disrupting harmony. John Millman, who still competes on the ATP Tour, knows it best as he watched it unfold in front of him. Being on the Tour gave him an insight into the whole situation and he talked about it in a recent column he wrote for the Australian website News.com.au.
Like any good superhero movie, sport needs its heroes and villains. Tennis is no exception. For the last fifteen years Roger and Rafa, our cape donning warriors, have delighted adoring crowds. But for this story to work we needed an anti-hero of equal brilliance. Enter Novak Djokovic.
Yes, the villain of tennis. Not a tag he wanted but he embraced it. Not in a mocking way, simply by accepting it as a fact and going about his business. He proved himself to be a genuine person with thoughts and opinions that are not ideal, a human being with flaws like all those that drew breath at one point in the thousands-year-long history of planet Earth.
He found respect a decade after he started doing incredible things on the court but it's not universal. You still have legends of the game like McEnroe batting for him to be more respected.
The lack of respect comes from the fact that too many focus on his off-court stuff. Prone to advocate unconventional methods which saw him mocked more than once, Djokovic keeps proving himself right.
Possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game, it’s incredible that his character is often talked about more than his on-court ability. He is someone that is redefining age barriers in our sport, yet headlines focus more on his views on vaccinations.
Twenty-two grand slam trophies speak volumes and a chance to win a 23rd in Paris. If it's not his method, then it's his opinion. His most recent one divided the world once more because it was a bit inappropriate according to some.
It doesn't matter to Djokovic as he did what he believes in. Whether it's Kosovo or vaccinations, Djokovic always stuck by his words which at the very least is rather admirable. He sacrificed his legacy for what he believed in.
Thousands of hours on the court, thousands more in the practice facility. Suffering, pain, misery, surgeries, injuries, and many more things to become the greatest of all time and then risking all of that, possibly negating all of that because of a personal belief in freedom of choice. Think about it.
How many among you would be willing to throw away everything you worked for, things you were obsessed with for decades for a belief? I doubt it's many and that's the beauty. He's done so many incredible things for the sport, in the sport, in his life yet people keep focusing on the wrong things.
He's certainly someone you don't and probably shouldn't agree with at all but much of what he does comes from a genuine place. It's not all just talk because he's proven it's not all talk. You might doubt his intentions most of the time, you might doubt his sincerity with the PTPA but it's coming from a genuine place.
He's been called a villain by many and for so long, but in reality, as Millman points out, he was needed in tennis. Needed to represent because for every Nadal and Federer, there is also a Djokovic and those players were missing a voice.
Novak will always divide opinion. He certainly has strong beliefs and unwavering principles that might not be agreeable. For some he will always be someone we hope not to succeed. I believe in time though more people will come to realise what his colleagues already know, Novak is a hero dressed as a villain. And that was exactly what our sport needed.
And here we are. In year 18 of the Djokovic experience. A long time from his first showing on the ATP Tour in 2005. Still the villain and still not respected enough. His achievements are downplayed, his losses celebrate and yet he keeps standing and battling.
The eternal underdog keeps proving people wrong by believing in himself. That alone should deter you from questioning him but alas people still do it. Let's finish on a personal note from John Millman as someone who knows him.
On a personal level I’ve always found Novak personable and approachable. He was someone that I respected greatly for just how good of a player he was. I said as much in the final of the Japan Open at the trophy presentation after being defeated by Novak, acknowledging that ironically, I felt at times his achievements are somewhat downplayed. Such are the perils of being the villain!