2021 Australian Open: Day 7
2021 Australian Open: Day 7

‘Djokovic the kid in the school yard with no mates’

Neither of them will enjoy reading this but, like it or not, warring tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios actually have a few things in common.

They both polarise their audiences and cop criticism for anything and everything they do. They are always going to be the subjects of far greater scrutiny than their peers. But the heat they draw is for different reasons. And they both handle it in very different ways, too.

Kyrgios knows he's not everyone's cup of tea. He is who he is and if you don't like it, too bad.

Djokovic, however, tries to give the impression he doesn't care about not being liked - but deep down I'm not convinced that's true.

He's playing alongside two of the most popular and phenomenal tennis talents the sport has ever known in its history. And while he is more than likely going to overtake them both for most grand slam titles ever won, he will never attract the universal support they do.

I feel for him in that respect.

Every great era needs a villain. And he's become just that.

 

On the court Djokovic is nothing short of incredible. He's on another level, the guy you never want in your draw and one of the greatest talents we have ever had.

But off the court he has done himself no favours - particularly in the last 12 months.

The Adria Tour was a catastrophe. Being defaulted at the US Open was humiliating, sharing his anti-vax views was controversial and then there's the Kyrgios feud and the attempted coup on the player council.

Even what happened in Adelaide, when he asked for better quarantine conditions for those in Melbourne - which some would argue he was doing for other players - it all backfired. Whoever is advising him is doing a bad job. Or perhaps he's just not listening.

With each fresh controversy comes a fresh attempt at justification; I was thinking of the others, I was doing it for the good of tennis etc.

But the claims he is acting in the greater good often look self-defeatingly transparent. Let's be honest, it's usually obvious it's first and foremost for him.

Tennis players are selfish people, not just Djokovic, all of us. This sport rewards individual success. You do what's best for you.

For Djokovic now, he wants grand slam titles. That is all. He wants that record to be his.

He wants his legacy to be the greatest player of all time and for all this controversy to be forgotten.

 

But he's doing himself no favours in that regard.

And so when he appears to be an innocent victim of circumstance his past colours people's views. Injuries usually demand sympathy rather than suspicion.

This hasn't just come out of nowhere, people don't question the severity of your injury for no reason. Djokovic has a reputation for being the boy who cried wolf.

He's openly said that people portray him as the bad guy while others (read Rafa and Roger) get a free pass. There may be merit in that assessment but he is not blameless.

Sometimes you have to wonder if it's easier to just shut your mouth. But maybe he is sick of that. He's a global tennis superstar, he's entitled to an opinion and you could argue he has earned the right to share it.

Unfortunately for him when he does speak out he almost always seems to be in the minority.

I feel sorry for him in that respect. Deep down I think like all of us he wants approval and to be liked.

No one wants to be the kid in the playground with no mates.

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with forming break out associations for players; I didn't agree with the Adria Tour; or asking for extra player conditions in a pandemic. But I also don't think anyone wants to feel like an outsider and the one people are putting blame on and being singled out.

That would be very hard on anyone.

It almost seems absurd that one of the greatest players of a generation can have such a negative public perception and unfortunately for him I'm not sure he will be able to overturn it if he keeps stoking the flames.

In any other era I don't think it would be this way. But Roger and Rafa needed a bad guy and they got Novak.

Originally published as 'Djokovic the kid in the school yard with no mates'


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