‘Novak Djokovic on par with Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan in terms of success, but not popularity’

Shahida Jacobs
Novak Djokovic 2023 US Open
Novak Djokovic after the 2023 US Open final

Novak Djokovic is not as popular as sporting greats Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan due to the country of his birth with former Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli saying that “coming from a small Eastern European country affects one’s popularity rating”.

Tennis great Djokovic won a record-extending 24th Grand Slam last week when he defeated Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final with many believing he cemented his status as the greatest tennis player of all time.

The 36-year-old also holds tops the list for most weeks spent at No 1 in the ATP Rankings, has finished the year at No 1 on seven occasions and won a record 39 ATP Masters 1000 titles, among other things.

But Djokovic made some interesting comments to Serbian media after his victory as he stated that he would receive more recognition as he was not from a small European country that has been affected by war.

“One thing is a fact, though – if I wasn’t from Serbia, I’d have been glorified on a sporting level many years ago, especially in the west,” the world No 1 said.

“But that’s part of my journey, I am grateful and proud to come from Serbia – because of that, all of these accomplishments are sweeter and even more fulfilling.”

And 2013 Wimbledon champion Bartoli agrees with Djokovic on the popularity rating.

Speaking on RMC, the former world No 8 said: “Of course it’s not just the fact that he is Serbian. We know very well that if Novak was American, he’d have a statue in every city.

“The fact that he is Serbian means that he is not as publicised. Coming from a small Eastern European country, with a recent painful past, affects one’s popularity rating.”

She even went as far as saying that Djokovic’s sporting achievements are on the same level as that of legendary boxer Ali and basketball great Jordan, but he falls behind in the popularity stakes simply because he was born in a small country.

Bartoli added on the Les Grandes Gueules du Sport segment: “Where I agree with him is that coming from a small Eastern European country with a recent painful past affects one’s popularity rating.

“When we take the best athletes of all time, who do we put him next to? Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, can he fit into this category? In terms of achievement yes but not in popularity.”

Bartoli previously told Tennis365 in an interview that Djokovic is unlikely to ever receive the same love and adulation from tennis fans as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“If Novak had played just one other player, I think he would have had a much bigger fan base,” she said.

“So I think he has gained the respect from everyone, but in terms of the love, this is slightly different. It’s just human nature to cheer for one or the other and you don’t want the third one.”

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