Novak Djokovic is a name that has become synonymous with greatness. Djokovic is an embodiment of sustained excellence, a player whose legend keeps growing at a pace that makes eternity look finite.
Djokovic's 20th Major title at Wimbledon a few days ago has almost put the tiresome 'GOAT' argument to bed. There finally seems to be a consensus among fans and pundits alike that Djokovic is, in fact, the greatest male player of all time. Even his most ardent haters are starting to accept that the only argument they now have against his claim to being the best ever is: "he will never be loved as much as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal".
To be honest, even that argument doesn't seem watertight; Djokovic actually has millions of followers who adjust their daily schedule based on his matches. But it does remind us of the rude and disrespectful crowds that the Serb has often had to overcome throughout his career.
Novak Djokovic's Wimbledon final against Matteo Berrettini began with a huge cheer from the crowd - but the cause was a double fault from the World No. 1. The treatment was no different from the one that Djokovic received in his previous Wimbledon finals against Federer.
But the problem is not just at Wimbledon. Earlier this year, during Djokovic's third-round match against Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open, it almost felt like the crowd wanted to pick a brawl with their nine-time champion.
These are just a few instances of the many that Novak Djokovic has had to face all career. The "Joker" has found a way to ace tennis - and life - amidst considerable hate and trolling in stadiums as well as on social media. And that in some ways makes his achievements even more impressive than they already are.
But why is tennis' most successful male player of all time constantly subjected to so much hate? Why would people who claim to be fans of the sport hold so much contempt towards someone who has, almost literally, perfected his game? Why do they jeer Djokovic between serves, cheer for his mistakes on the court, and celebrate every time he loses so much as a set?
Seven-time major champion John McEnroe once said: "Everybody loves success, but they hate successful people." Crazy as that old man sounds at times, he was on the money when he said that.
From what I have observed in over 16 years of following professional sport, it is that fans tend to hate perfection as well as crave it.
They are simply perfect at what they do.
Novak Djokovic: Hated for being too good?
The other day I read an interesting article from my colleague, which openly declared his dislike for Novak Djokovic and detailed the reasons for his negative feelings towards the World No. 1. He made it a point to stress that his hatred stemmed from Djokovic simply being too good at tennis.
I do not intend to ridicule his view, since that would amount to hypocrisy on my part. For the longest time I myself had that same sentiment - as, I am sure, have many other fans of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
If you're friends with fans of those two, then you would probably be used to hearing backhanded compliments like "I hate how f***ing good that guy is" and "He's so good it makes me f***ing sick" while watching Novak Djokovic play.
In Djokovic, they see what their idols Federer and Nadal lack. Yes, I do realize how dismissive that sounds of two other players who have won the same number of Majors as the Serbinator. But as good as Federer and Nadal are, they are not quite Djokovic good.
It hurts the two biggest fanbases in the game to admit that the scrawny "third wheel" from Serbia, who they once dismissed as a wasted talent, has now surpassed their heroes in both quality and quantity.
They hate how perfect that scrawny third wheel has become.
But was perfection always so hated? Novak Djokovic is not the first tennis player to be handed the tag of 'perfect'; he isn't even the first of his own era to earn that disctinction.
For years, it was Roger Federer who had the image of being the "Mr. Perfect". In fact, the tag was almost made official through Federer's branding and merchandise; he was literally sold as peRFect.
But The Mighty Fed never had to face the wrath of the crowd or social media the way Djokovic does. Instead he got home-like support wherever he played, and had a cult-like religious following wherever he went.
So why does Novak Djokovic receive hate for the same thing that Roger Federer was universally loved for? Is it because Djokovic is actually perfect? Is it because he has become a god to Federer's king?
Novak Djokovic: The magician whose tricks are simple, but inimitable
While many have made their peace with reality, there is a section of the "Fedal crowd" which still shies from admitting Novak Djokovic's flawlessness. So they perpetuate another implausible argument; that Djokovic is too robotic and boring.
They claim that there is nothing spectacular in Djokovic's game, the way there is in Federer's or Nadal's. And that in turn intensifies their hatred for the Serb.
I agree with them to an extent; Djokovic doesn't hit as many picturesque "hot shots" as Federer or Nadal do. But that's only because he doesn't need to. Djokovic has mastered his art so well that he is never even put into a position that needs something astonishing to get out of.
You only need to produce something outside the ordinary to overcome a weakness in the ordinary. And that is what Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been producing throughout their careers.
Federer has always had a tangible weakness: his backhand. The Swiss Maestro has for years been trying to hide that by taking time away from his opponents, thus depriving them of the chance to exploit his weaker wing. And on some occasions he has managed to get away by slicing his backhand and dashing to the net, relying on his incredible hand skills to do all the work.
Rafael Nadal's biggest weakness has been his very first shot: the serve. That sub-par serve has made the Spaniard push the boundaries of baseline play and produce a style of tennis never seen before. As a teenage prodigy, Nadal reached a level of athleticism and endurance that most seasoned pros could only dream of.
Both Federer and Nadal have done exceptionally well to overcome their weaknesses. After all, each of them does have more Slams than all but two other players in the history of the game.
But what if you don't have a weakness? What if you have achieved a perfect balance of every aspect of the game? What if you're Novak Djokovic?
Yes, it is fairly evident now that Djokovic is the perfect tennis player. Or as close to being the perfect tennis player as anyone has ever been.
He plays modern tennis the way it is meant to be played. There is no need for him to do something that appears spectacular to a casual fan's eyes, because to a trained eye everything he does is technically spectacular.
Djokovic's groundstrokes are perfectly placed; he hits them with a precision that would compete with a hawk diving towards its prey. The Serb doesn't waste energy in hitting hard either, because his timing is so smooth. He grows increasingly assertive as the rally extends, by pushing the opponent further away from the baseline with every shot. And he uses the net only when he can maximize its utility.
If you open a textbook of tennis shots, Novak Djokovic would probably be the first illustration in every category. He is what a tennis coach dreams of creating every time he takes in a new child.
The only half-weakness in Djokovic's game is probably his overhead smash or the famous "Djokosmash" that is often the butt of jokes on social media. But even the haters secretly know that a shot required only once in every five rallies - and which actually works well eight out of 10 times despite being "bad" - is probably the strongest "weakness" anyone could have.
The theory that Novak Djokovic does nothing spectacular is, in reality, rather rubbish. The geometric perfection that Djokovic produces on a tennis court with his groundstroke angles, the paranormal ways in which he stretches his body to retrieve otherwise certain winners, the speed at which he gets back into position within a split-second - these are all spectacles to behold for every tennis nerd.
Watching Djokovic redirect the pace of the opponent's shot is like watching a wizard make the ball stop as it comes to him, then use his wand to carefully drop the ball exactly where he wants on the other side of the court.
It is only when Djokovic hands in his racket for good, after he has won about 27 Slams, that we will realize how tennis was once upon a time perfected by a man from Belgrade. And it might be too late by then.
Novak Djokovic being a 'perfect' player is something that I have scorned every time he has stepped on the court over the past 10 years. His godlike perfection has had me praying for him to lose on multiple occasions. Being a fan of his biggest rivals has only added to my desperation whenever he has won. And he has won almost always.
Some of the most heartbreaking moments I have had as a tennis fan for almost two decades have been directly caused by Novak Djokovic.
But like many others over the years, I have finally realized that you can either hate someone who you know has no flaws, or you can sit back and enjoy the unique brand of excellence that he brings to the sport. I have chosen the latter, even if it means he will keep beating my favorite players until eternity.