Why I can't be a Novak Djokovic fan

Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2021
Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2021

To say I am not a Novak Djokovic fan is an understatement. But that is definitely a better way to frame the sentiment than by saying "If I had to pick one player to play tennis for my life, I wouldn't pick Djokovic even though I'd be fully aware that he was my best chance of staying alive."

But even I have to grudgingly admit that Novak Djokovic might just be the greatest tennis player of all time, even if he thinks the matter is up for debate. Or maybe especially now that he thinks it is up for debate.

Ever since Djokovic's mother Dijana said, "The King is dead! Long live the King!" in response to her son beating Roger Federer in the 2008 Australian Open semifinals, I have hated him with the same burning passion reserved for fascists and paperbacks that use an image from the movie as their cover photo. And 13-something years later, watching them write his name on the wall of Wimbledon winners for the third time on the trot has only reinforced those feelings.

But he is here. He has found his way into the promised land that is 20 Grand Slams, and no longer can the Rafans and the Fedfans pretend that they are blind. Novak Djokovic is, for all intents and purposes, statistically just as good as (if not better than) Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. And he is bound to get better and better. And better.

God help the next person trying to shoehorn a number into BELIEVE by the time Djokovic retires.

But just how did Novak Djokovic become this good? The last point of the Serb's final win over Matteo Berrettini gives us a fair illustration of that. The rally lasts 11 shots, and Djokovic, who is at championship point and leading 5-3 in the fourth set, plays a series of conservative strokes.

He waits for his opponent to make a mistake. He serves up a couple of slices and a couple of regulation backhands in the knowledge that Berrettini has to blink first, which he does by hitting the ball into the net.

When the trap he laid out in cold blood works, Djokovic lifts his arms to the heavens. It is cold and calculating and smart, but that is not the way I like my tennis.

Novak Djokovic is almost too perfect, compared to the more human Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why I dislike watching Novak Djokovic so much. It is not simply that he is better than the players I like. It is not because he is arrogant or anything about his achievements; the Serb in fact is one of the most chill and humble players off the court.

Why then? It all comes down to something I can only vaguely describe as "coldness".

You might understand this better if you are a fan of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. There is a warmth about their playing style that consumes you from the moment you start watching them, turning you from a consumer to a partaker in the act.

Federer, with his genius and finesse, and Nadal, with his resilience and athleticism, represent something 'alive' in the game. They add a certain unpredictability to the game that is decidedly human.

The same can be said about the springy Gael Monfils or the stubborn Juan Martin Del Potro too. It can even be said about the mercurial Nick Kyrgios.

But when I have to add an adjective to Novak Djokovic, I can only say that he is unbeatable. That he defends about as well as the walls of Troy (before the whole gimmick with the horse, obviously). That he has no weakness in his game which is obvious, or even obscure.

For me personally, instead of those qualities being an addition to the game - like in the case of the aforementioned players - it becomes a subtraction. Like the 20th century being afraid that the advent of industrialization and mechanization would make people more emotionless, Novak Djokovic feels (to me) like he has taken away the thing that makes tennis, tennis.

Novak Djokovic celebrating his win at Wimbledon 2021
Novak Djokovic celebrating his win at Wimbledon 2021

Novak Djokovic reaches balls he has no right to reach, but he doesn’t show signs of fatigue. By contrast, Rafael Nadal often does, and that's why it is so easy to love the Spaniard. You see him yell and push every single muscle to its extreme and you are convinced he is human persistence personified.

Novak Djokovic hits shots he has no right to, without squandering the easiest of chances. By contrast, Roger Federer often does the latter, which is why it is so easy to love the Swiss. One moment you see him hit the most beautiful slice you have ever seen in your life, and the very next moment you are rubbing your nose after he hits the easiest of volleys into the net.

But that is why I love this sport. And Novak Djokovic, by being too consistent and too perfect and too careful, represents to me everything I don't like about it. To be blunt, Djokovic is simply too good to be excited about.

Now I am not saying his wins mean anything less because of this. They don't. But I am fairly certain that Federer would have gone for the audacious by the fifth shot, and so it is impossible for me to find comfort in anything else.

I will end this by quoting Patrick Rothfuss in the The Wise Man’s fear, a passage that is tailor-made for the point I wish to make:

Bredon’s expression softened, and his voice became almost like an entreaty. "Tak reflects the subtle turning of the world. It is a mirror we hold to life. No one wins a dance, boy. The point of dancing is the motion that a body makes. A well-played game of tak reveals the moving of a mind. There is a beauty to these things for those with eyes to see it."
He gestured at the brief and brutal lay of stones between us. "Look at that. Why would I ever want to win a game such as this?"
I looked down at the board. "The point isn’t to win?" I asked.
"The point," Bredon said grandly, "is to play a beautiful game." He lifted his hands and shrugged, his face breaking into a beatific smile. "Why would I want to win anything other than a beautiful game?"

If I sound bitter, that is because I am. It is in the nature of fans to be bitter about the players they support no longer being the best. But don't let that distract you from the fact that Novak Djokovic is head and shoulders above anyone else who has played the game. Statistically, of course.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal, and not necessarily something that Sportskeeda endorses.

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