Exclusive – Assessing Novak Djokovic’s legacy with one of the game’s leading writers

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer

He has long been cast as the third man in a story that has captivated the tennis world for 15 years, yet Novak Djokovic’s legacy will ultimately be elevated by his rivalries with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

That’s the verdict of highly respected New York Times tennis writer Christopher Clarey, who believes that while Djokovic is destined to go down in history as the most successful player of all-time his legacy will always be shared with his two great rivals from a golden era of tennis.

Speaking to Tennis365 as he promoted The Master, his outstanding book looking at Federer’s career, Clarey told us that Djokovic deserves credit for overcoming huge hurdles to join his rivals by winning 20 Grand Slam titles.

“I’m not going to make a call on who is the best of all-time, but Novak looks like he is the best player in pure results on who is the best player in this era,” began Clarey.

“In my view, it has been both a burden and a blessing for Novak to have Roger and Rafa around. If he was the dominant player in tennis, he wouldn’t have become the player he is now. To have a chance to go after the great champions who were so popular and to beat them on their best surfaces was a great opportunity for him and he has seized that.

“Who is the greatest of all-time in tennis? That’s a different debate. Does it come down to their performance and achievement on the court or is also about what they have brought to the sport?

“In that situation and with a wider lens, Roger’s argument gets stronger as he has had. He’s had a huge impact with fans and people outside of the sport of tennis. I won’t make a call on who the greatest of all time, but Novak will win that debate on pure results.”

Djokovic broke down in tears during and after his US Open final defeat against Daniil Medvedev earlier this month, as he confirmed the support he received from a New York crowd that has often been hostile to him down the years during his battles with Federer, Nadal and most rivals had warmed his heart.

Yet Clarey insists the media are not to blame for Djokovic’s struggle to win over the tennis fans who attend tournaments, as he suggests the issue is a little deeper.

“People who follow Novak perceive him as being hard done by and misunderstood, misinterpreted and under-appreciated,” he continues.

“It makes you fact-check all your tweets and articles when you do an article on Djokovic and you know you are going to get a strong reaction from his fans.

“As for Novak, he has spoken about his frustration earlier on in his career about the crowds not being with him, but I think those battle lines are now set.

“I guess that is good as it shows how strong a following these three great champions have created. It is one of the reasons why tennis has been so successful in this era and why it has made for compelling viewing. They have all had their own people pulling for them and the rivalries have created some division among the public as well.

“In the long run, it will really help him in terms of his legacy that he has been able to go up against them and beat them. His story and the crazy odds he has had to overcome to become who he is might be under-appreciated.

“Yet he has been his own worst enemy at times with some of the things he has done and the choices he has made, like the situation hitting the lines person at the US Open last year. That kind of thing has not happened to Roger or Rafa, but it is part of Novak’s story.

“In some ways, his story reminds me of Ivan Lendl, who came along after Bjorn Borg and (John) McEnroe. Lendl was a great player, but he wasn’t universally popular. Novak is a much more successful career and deserves to be recognised as one of the game’s all-time greats and maybe even the greatest.”

The Master, The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey is available now. You can read the first part of our interview with Christopher HERE