The record-breaking Novak Djokovic: loved, liked or admired?

You can always count on Nick Kyrgios for a line.

“I just feel like he has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked,” Kyrgios said of Novak Djokovic in 2019.

“I feel like he just wants to be loved so much that I just can’t stand him,” he continued, later calling Djokovic a “tool” to complain about quarantine rules at the 2022 Australian Open, after which Djokovic said he t ” respect” the Australian.

The two have apparently made up now (Kyrgios said they “have a bit of a bromance now, which is weird” before meeting in the 2022 Wimbledon final), but as is often the case with Krygios, if you’re itching the monstrous surface, there is an interesting point.

Is Novak Djokovic, who has won the most grand slam titles of any man to ever play tennis, actually like it?

Djokovic reacts with a towel as the wet surface on Center Court delays his first round match (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

There are many ways in which Djokovic is not an easy player to warm to. For starters, he’s not the most entertaining to watch, suffering in comparison to the only other two men who come close to his title run in this era – not as graceful as Roger Federer, not as visceral as Rafa Nadal.

When Casper Ruud, who lost to Djokovic in the French Open final this year, was asked by Athletics Yesterday, what made the Serb so difficult to beat, the Norwegian pointed to his counterattack, saying Djokovic has taken “how well he defends to a new level.” A brilliant winning strategy, sure, but not one that will have many telling misty-eyed stories to their grandchildren about the time they saw him play.

A quick and unscientific survey of the fans in attendance at Wimbledon on Monday reveals a mixed bag. A few said they were fans simply because he is the greatest. One said they found him “cheeky” and therefore endearing, citing old clips of him impressing other players on the field. Others weren’t quite so enamored. “He’s an ad***,” one woman said, pointing to his anti-vaccination stance.

Oh yes, the Covid-19 thing. Djokovic certainly didn’t help himself with his response to the pandemic. There was the Melbourne murder, his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 which led to the absurd saga where he was eventually thrown out of the country, disputes over an apparent exemption certificate which resulted in his visa being cancelled.

More serious was the infamous Adria Tour in 2020, a series of exhibition matches hosted by Djokovic in Serbia and Croatia after the ATP Tour was shut down. Social distancing, to put it mildly, was not strictly enforced, and in the aftermath several contestants tested positive for the virus, including Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki (and his pregnant wife), Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, plus Djokovic himself and his wife Jelena .

“I don’t think I did anything bad,” Djokovic said, doubling down in response to the fierce criticism. “If I had the chance to do the Adria Tour again, I would do it again. It’s like a witch hunt.”

Djokovic and fellow players at Adria Tour in June 2020 (Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Still, with some people, Djokovic’s attitude was a positive one rather than a negative one. “Novak has to be very respected with everything he’s done in the game,” Jordan Thompson, Djokovic’s second-round opponent at Wimbledon, said when asked by The athletic, “and that he stuck to his guns with the vaccination stuff. He refused to get vaccinated and it probably cost him the grand slam [Djokovic also missed the 2022 US Open because he wasn’t vaccinated]. I don’t think people realize that, so he probably deserves more respect for that.”

Djokovic’s popularity probably also suffers because of his dominance. He currently has 23 grand slam titles and hasn’t really given much indication that he wants to stop there. You get the feeling it’s up to Carlos Alcaraz to make sure this Wimbledon isn’t No. 24, his fifth on the spin in south-west London, and at a gallop too.

His win over Pedro Cachin in the first round this year made it an extraordinary 66 consecutive slams in which he has won his first round match. The last time he tripped over the first hurdle was when he lost to Paul Goldstein at the 2006 Australian Open. Our broad concept of time has warped in recent years, so to give you an idea of ​​how long ago it was: Djokovic has won 22 of his 23 grand slams since Goldstein retired.

As time has taken care of the other giants of the past few decades, with Federer retiring and the bodies of Nadal and Andy Murray gradually crumbling, Djokovic is the last one left as the world waits for another to come to king.

Familiarity breeds… maybe not contempt, but maybe boredom? From a spectator’s perspective, there aren’t many more joyless experiences than watching Djokovic bulldoze a gaping challenger in the early rounds of a tournament.

None of this is Djokovic’s fault, but you also can’t blame the public if they yearn for the days of four all-time giants, rather than just one.

Still, while people in London might not be particularly keen on him, you’ll get a different response in the center of Belgrade. “People love him here,” said Filip Krajinovic, another Serb and the man Djokovic has named as his best friend in tennis. “He is the greatest ever and people have a lot of respect for him. They live for his tennis.”

Maybe ‘like’ is the wrong word. Respected, admired rather than loved? “I think that’s a fair statement,” Thompson said.

“I think for sure he gets the respect he needs,” said Italian Lorenzo Musetti. “From my side, for sure. From the others, I don’t know for sure, but I think so.”

And even if they don’t…well, he can just wipe his eyes at his stacks of trophies: “I think even if someone disrespects him, he doesn’t care. He is so focused on his career, on his record mentality,” said Musetti, who was full of praise for Djokovic.

There was beef between Djokovic and Cameron Norrie recently when the Serbian suggested that Norrie had deliberately smashed the ball into the back of his leg during the Italian Open, beef that continued to simmer after Norrie complained that Djokovic was late for their rematch in the French. Opens a few weeks later.

Conversely, Djokovic was the only tennis player named by Naomi Osaka in a 2021 essay for Time magazine as someone who “supported, encouraged and offered such kind words”, after she said she wanted to skip post-match press conferences at the French. Open.

And so, perhaps inevitably, the answer to the question of whether Novak Djokovic likes is: um, maybe. Some do. Some don’t. Some don’t care. Some have changed their minds. Even Nick Krygios.

(Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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