How the ‘rebranding’ of Novak Djokovic could reap handsome rewards

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic in California
Novak Djokovic in California

We have seen a new approach to Novak Djokovic’s public relations drive and that is continuing ahead of the ATP 1000 tournament at Indian Wells.

The world No 1 is set to play his first tournament since his Australian Open semi-final defeat against Jannik Sinner when he makes his first appearance at the Californian event since 2019.

Djokovic has admitted time and again in recent years that his focus in the final years of his career will be on winning Grand Slam titles and adding to his record-breaking haul of 24 wins in the sport’s four biggest tournaments.

Yet it has also become clear that he has looked to rebrand himself away from the court under the watch of his relatively newly appointed PR manager Mark Madden.

Despite his stunning success on the tennis court, Djokovic has struggled to win the popularity battle with his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

That has led to Djokovic constantly being cast as the ‘baddie’ in the three-way battle that has dominated the men’s game for the last two decades.

Djokovic has constantly fought against spectators cheering for his rivals in the biggest matches of his career, with the negativity he has attracted fuelled by some controversial incidents over the course of his career.

His stance on Covid vaccine divided public opinion and led to his deportation from Melbourne ahead of the 2022 Australian Open, while he was also disqualified from the 2020 US Open after accidentally hitting a linesperson in the throat.

Despite those incidents and others that have tarnished his reputation with some tennis fans, the treatment Djokovic has received from booing and jeering tennis fans has been a source of constant annoyance to the 36-year-old Serbian superstar.

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“The more they cheer against me, the better for me. They wake something in me that they perhaps don’t want to see – a winner,” said Djokovic last year.

“As a player, you want to have the majority of the crowd on your side. My wish is not to play in a hostile atmosphere. It turns out, though, that the crowd supports my opponent in most of the matches in my career.

That’s my destiny and that’s all right – sometimes I find it harder to accept it, sometimes I don’t understand the crowd’s reactions, but it’s their right. Sometimes, though, some people are more daring in what they’re saying from the stands – when it’s like that, they have to expect me to answer and react.

“It’s happened in the past, in the big tournaments around the world. It gives me extra fuel, and inspires me to play even better.”

Djokovic made a big change to his backroom team when he parted company with long-standing agents Edoardo Artaldi and Elena Capellaro and started working with PR adviser Mark Madden.

That change sparked a clear change in approach from Djokovic, who made an appearance at a Pro-Am event at last year’s Ryder Cup and also appeared as a host at the Ballon d’Or football awards a few weeks later.

Now this theme has continued over the last few days, with Djokovic making a very public appearance with his son Stefan to watch Lionel Messi play a Major League Soccer match.

He then made an appearance for a practice session at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), with his daughter Tara looking on as her Dad went through his paces on court.

With glossy social media posts promoting Djokovic’s visit to UCLA, the new approach to rebrand Djokovic and highlight his personality to as big an audience as possible is clearly an ongoing plan.

While his passionate army of fans around the world is quick to hit back at any suggestion that Djokovic is not a popular sportsman, he continues to be taunted by spectators at tennis events around the club.

Djokovic has changed the way he has dealt with his detractors in recent months, as he has often cupped his hand to his ear to hit back at negativity coming his way, but there is no doubt a more favourable public response would be useful to this sporting icon as he looks to put the finishing touches to his legacy.

As Novak openly admits, playing against a world-class opponent is all the more challenging when the crowd are also riling against you.

With his adorable children now at an age when they can play a role in showing the world the real Djokovic, his rebranding is set to continue over the course of 2024.