A letter by a Rafael Nadal super-fan on why he hates Novak Djokovic but respects him
Novak Djokovic has millions, maybe even billions of fans around the world; but I’m not one of them. Having been a Nadal fan from even before he won his first of nine French Open titles, I’ve been as loyal as Uncle Toni, and there are millions of me like in the world too, who would stick to their man!
When you’re talking of fan following, who can understand what loyalty means as much as Roger Federer, often touted as the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time). I’ve often felt that the GOAT debate is rather flawed, though.
You can have greatest of an era because you have the luxury of statistical comparison, head-to-head matchups, similar conditions and environments, and also the same evolution stage of the game. Comparing Rod Laver to FedEx, or Borg to Nadal, these are signs of leisurely intellectual indulgence, which will never satisfy anyone, at least the true statistical fanatics. While they make for storied numbers, the numbers just don’t add up.
The man of the moment
For years I believed Nadal was the G.O.H.O.E (Greatest Of His Own Era), after all he had a winning head-to-head winning record against practically all of his peers, the notable exception being a certain Nikolay Davydenko. He had one of the best winning percentages of all-time and life seemed to be moving rather well. But then came injuries, and then a fairy-tale comeback and then injuries again, but this time, there was no fairy-tale ending, the time of another man had begun, the era was no longer his.
Now, to be fair to Federer in all honesty, he’s a man who transcends eras, having played in quite a few of them. That said, he has truly owned and dominated only one of those many eras (pre-2008), a long one at that though. Post that, he was for long troubled by the King of Clay, against whom he still has a 11-23 losing record, and then, the Djoker.
This brings us back to the man of the moment, Novak Djokovic. Let’s look at his from multiple perspectives and statistical parameters. He’s the only Grand Slam champion, dead or alive, who has a winning record against both Nadal (24-23), and Federer (23-22).
Now, you may argue, these are too close to be called one way, but for a large part of Djokovic’s career, these were pretty lopsided, and not in his favor. The post 2010 era barring 2013 has well and truly been Djokovic’s, with him finishing end of year World No. 1 a remarkable 4 times.
He has been a superhuman, with no apparent kryptonite. Considered by many as the greatest returner of serve since Agassi, he has well and truly announced his arrival on the G.O.A.T debate.
Djokovic has won more head-to-head games (including tie-breaks), against both Nadal (617-584) and Federer (665-660). Again, you may point out that these numbers are way too close for comfort, but, when you’re talking about legends, even the slightest of differences is pretty much significant, and at the same time punishing for the loser in the battle.
The real test though, for a champion, is championship games and handling pressure. Djokovic, betters both Nadal (14-10) and Federer (12-6) in finals’ head-to-head appearances.
We’re talking about commanding an era that has the most successful and the second most successful Grand Slam champions in the Open era. An era where you have the most successful French Open champion ever (Nadal, 9 titles), the most successful Wimbledon and US Open champion (Federer, 7 and 5 respectively), and the most successful Australian Open Champion (Djokovic himself, 5 titles). This is no ordinary era. This is an era for the ages, an era of galactic champions.
While Federer has had to adjust his game to these emerging forces of nature and Nadal has had to battle injuries, Novak has just done one thing, play his own game and have others recalibrate. He’s already won 10 Grand Slam titles and could possibly win an 11th this weekend, and there seems to be no stopping him, even more so on a consistent basis.
He ups his game every time the opponent shows resilience and strength and is just so mentally up there. He’s played Federer in the most hostile crowd conditions possible at the US Open, where he was booed point after point, but there is nothing slowing down this juggernaut.
The scary part? He’s 28 and improving his attitude, fitness and game are all rising exponentially while others around him are slowly but surely waning. As much as I dislike the man, I cannot stop but respect him, recognize his immortal greatness and watch in awe as he relentlessly thwarts his opponents, day in day out!
- A Nadal fan who loves watching Federer play.