There always seems to have been a divide with Djokovic and an uncertainty at times. There has unquestionably been a lack of love from tennis fans worldwide throughout moments in his career. In his defence, he has grown up in the Federer/Nadal era and once someone has shown their fanatical ways for one of these two lads, not much else is going to get in the way of that support. You could argue the same to a slightly lesser extent with Muzza fans and a few of the other lads fan base. It is a time when we have been blessed and spoilt for choice with exceptional players in the last 10 years. Novak has been without a doubt the biggest threat to these three which is obviously going to get him his fair share of critics in its own right. As a youngster, he came in with a big rep and looked very solid off the ground and had great movement. Like most who succeed, you could tell back then he was a bit special. I have to be honest, by and large, I haven’t taken to Djokovic for large parts of his career, probably due to some of the above reasons but I think I had to admit sometime ago what an outstanding player he is. I just always got the impression that he was trying to do what he thought was right on and off the court as opposed to just being himself. Maybe just tried a bit too hard in my eyes,I might be totally wrong about this, but that was my hunch. I think with age this is changing. The Serbian has always come across as gracious in defeat I have to admit and it has always seemed very genuine. The sportsmanship shown from Djokovic and his family the day Muzza beat him at SW19 was class.
As for the level? At times it has been unbelievable. His tally of 12 grand slams to date is an incredible feat in any era but particularly this one. He has mastered each of them but has been particularly dominant down under in Melbourne, where he has won 6 titles! In 2011 and 2015 he won three out of the four and I believe in both losses at the French(in the semi to Federer in 2011 and the final to Stan in 2015), nerves played a big part with one eye on history. He was the standout player both years and he knew the slam was a possibility, it really is a huge task to achieve though. Since winning his first slam in Australia back in 2008 where he beat Tsonga, every triumph thereafter has concluded by beating Rafa, Roger or Muzza in the final. Not even a Ferrer/Raonic/Soderling insight for him. All of these have been from 2011 and onwards which makes it even more impressive. Having said that, Stan has been his nemesis in finals, he trails him 2-0 with defeats in Paris and New York! There has never been any doubt that Djokovic is a big game player though, some of his matches against Rafa were like watching your pal play on ‘the Atari Pong’ game back in the day. Just two brick walls, neither breaking down or comprising the quality of their groundstrokes! Mesmerising! Shot making out of the ordinary in matches where he would look down and out at times in a point, conjuring up a winner from row B of the stands and probably at full stretch at that. Classic defence into attack, with more than a little interest.
There may well have been a bit of a blip since winning the French last year and achieving the goal of landing all 4 majors. Rumours about his personal life, injuries and changes in backroom staff have all surfaced and played their part in this, no doubt. Players really aren’t robots though and the physical grind of the tour can simply take its toll. They are real humans these players you know!! I seem to be mellowing with Djokovic currently, is that due to the mini dip? Possibly! I think part of it is also appreciation as to what he has achieved, you can’t knock it! Recent events have seen some big decisions made with the departure of Marian Vajda, following that of Boris Becker at the end of last season. Vajda, in particular, has been part of the furniture and a standard fixture in his career on the tour since 2006. It looks like Novak feels its time for a change in an attempt to freshen it up, he may well have a point. Andre Agassi has been mentioned as a possible replacement but he seems to be happy to go solo, for the time being anyway, respect for that also. Although he may not be one of my favourites, I actually think Djokovic has probably been the most underrated male tennis player for quite some time. He certainly hasn’t got the credit he deserves yet and it may well happen after his playing days are numbered. One of men’s tennis ‘Big 4’, who has certainly played his part in taking the game to a new level, that much is for sure!
Andy Del Potro