Novak Djokovic usually has to cup his ear to encourage a crowd to cheer for him.
He has received a record-equalling 20 males’s Grand Slam titles and is a world primary with jaw-dropping athleticism – however he’s additionally one among his sport’s most polarising figures.
The 34-year-old Serb is presently sitting in a authorities detention lodge in Australia, ready for his newest controversy to play out after having his visa revoked in Melbourne when he arrived to defend his Australian Open title.
A court docket will determine on Monday whether or not to deport him – however whether or not he wins or loses his attraction, this week’s occasions have made him an much more divisive participant.
Simply how has a boy who sheltered during the Nato bombing of Belgrade in 1999 develop into a participant who has struggled to heat the hearts of so many?
‘You can’t make individuals love you’
When Djokovic confronted Roger Federer within the 2019 Wimbledon closing, an epic encounter was marred by booing of the Serb.
His misses have been clapped and he was jeered in a partisan environment extra doubtless discovered at soccer stadiums than on Centre Court docket.
Djokovic saved match factors and went on to win a basic closing, with pundits urging followers to point out extra respect to an excellent participant.
It’s arduous to know precisely why they didn’t – sure, the vastly in style Federer has a fanbase like no different, however Djokovic can be one of many sport’s greats.
“You can’t make individuals love you and that is been the scenario somewhat bit,” his former coach Boris Becker instructed BBC Radio 5 Reside Breakfast.
“He is a superb younger sportsman with the best perspective and the best character, he simply has a distinct view on life. He has a distinct view how he eats, how he drinks, how he sleeps. That is the place you may’t criticise him. Perhaps that is the rationale he is so profitable, however he is not for everyone – I get it.”
Does his approach of celebrating wind individuals up? He does an extravagant gesture to the 4 corners of the court docket in gratitude – does that grate when you’ve gotten been booing?
Or is it previous on-court behaviour? He has repeatedly been accused by gamers of exaggerating accidents, together with eventually yr’s Australian Open when Taylor Fritz mentioned the Serb would have retired from their match if his stomach downside was “actually, actually unhealthy”.
Again in 2008, Andy Roddick poked enjoyable at Djokovic by suggesting that among the many many illnesses bothering the Serb on the US Open is likely to be fowl flu, anthrax and SARS.
Or is it his flashes of anger on court docket? Probably the most notorious of these ended with a default from the 2020 US Open when he by chance hit a ball at a line decide.
His rants at umpires and ball children through the years have additionally contrasted with the calmer demeanours of his nearest rivals Federer and Nadal, and the phrase “boastful” isn’t removed from the lips of his critics.
It could be a combination of all of it, however additionally it is price contemplating what has occurred off the court docket too.
‘Good intentions’ or ‘egocentric’?
Djokovic drew a lot criticism early within the pandemic when he was amongst a number of gamers who examined constructive for Covid-19 at his Adria Tour occasion, the place gamers didn’t need to social distance and have been seen hugging on the web.
Whereas lockdown guidelines in Croatia had relaxed at this level, there was nonetheless no vaccine. Britain’s Dan Evans mentioned it was “a poor instance to set” and Australian Nick Kyrgios described it as a “bone-headed choice” to play.
Djokovic later apologised, saying it had been “too quickly” to carry the occasion however that the transfer had been pushed by “a pure coronary heart” and “good intentions”.
He once more provoked frustration a yr in the past when he requested Australian Open match director Craig Tiley to chill out quarantine guidelines, together with solutions resembling decreasing isolation durations and having gamers in quarantine moved to non-public homes with tennis courts.
Once more, Djokovic pointed to “good intentions” and mentioned his letter had been “misconstrued as being egocentric, troublesome and ungrateful”.
A non secular and passionate Serb who desires to be appreciated
Good intentions are the precept behind his Novak Djokovic Basis, which builds pre-schools and helps trainer coaching in Serbia to present “youngsters from impoverished areas the possibility to study and play in a protected, artistic and nurturing setting”, and is impressed by his war-torn childhood.
His nation is on the coronary heart of his motivation, having put enjoying for his nationwide workforce alongside Grand Slams as his most necessary sporting goals, and he additionally loves handing out racquets to younger followers within the crowd.
Djokovic followers – and also you solely should be at a Serbia Davis Cup tie to know there are a number of them and they’re very vocal – have a good time the actual fact he has achieved enormous success in an period the place two different greats have additionally been enjoying – Federer and Nadal.
A extremely non secular one who practises yoga and meditation and follows a plant-based food regimen, Djokovic as soon as put a revival in kind all the way down to a five-day mountain trek together with his spouse that resulted in back-to-back Grand Slam titles.
Nicknamed ‘The Joker’ early in his profession when he used to do humorous impersonations of his fellow gamers, he’s additionally determined to be appreciated.
Djokovic has by no means had the extent of assist loved by Swiss nice Federer and Spain’s Nadal, particularly at Grand Slams, and notably on the US Open the place it has generally been hostile.
Whereas he has usually dismissed the boos, he couldn’t cover the tears eventually yr’s US Open closing when he mentioned that though he had misplaced the match he was “the happiest man alive” due to the love he felt from the group.
Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo instructed BBC Radio 5 Reside Breakfast there had been “unfair remedy” of Djokovic through the years, and that he “usually made errors that gave ammo to the criticism”.
“However generally the issues he has achieved which can be very constructive simply do not get talked about usually sufficient,” he mentioned.
What love he might have gained in New York evaporated this week in Australia, when many locals have been infuriated that Djokovic, who has mentioned he is opposed to vaccination against Covid-19, had been granted medical exemption by two impartial medical panels organised by Tennis Australia and Victoria state.
Australians have needed to endure a few of the world’s strictest restrictions – many nonetheless can’t journey between states or internationally – and considered the scenario as him being given particular remedy.
Djokovic was held in Melbourne Airport for a number of hours earlier than border officers introduced he had not met entry guidelines regarding the exemption, and his Australian Open participation is within the arms of a court docket.
The ‘will he, will not he be in Australia’ debate had dominated pre-season and whereas many have questioned his opposition to vaccination, the way in which wherein he introduced that he was on his approach has been seen arguably as damaging.
Posting on social media to say he had been granted a medical exemption with out giving the explanations has left followers, locals, politicians and fellow gamers wanting solutions.
If he wins the attraction towards deportation on Monday and may bid for a record-extending tenth Australian Open and file twenty first males’s Grand Slam title, he’ll most certainly be booed by residence followers who’ve dubbed him ‘Novax’, and cheered by these waving indicators of assist exterior the lodge the place he’s being held.
And if he loses the attraction, he’s nonetheless prone to be cupping that ear once more at his subsequent occasion.