Novak Djokovic asked if he wants to be loved as much as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Kevin Palmer
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer at the Laver Cup

Novak Djokovic has given one of his most revealing interviews yet, as he revealed he has given up on trying to win a popularity contest with long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic’s fans around the world always claim their man is a favourite with tennis fans, but the reality on courts around the world point to a very different story.

Even though the world No 1 is the most successful tennis player of all-time statistically, he continues to get hostile receptions from fans in all corners of the world.

Djokovic was jeered from Paris to Wimbledon and from Turin to Malaga last year, which is an unusual position for a true legend of the game to find himself in.

Yet in an interview with The Times, Djokovic spoke to journalist Davis Walsh about a popularity battle he appears to have accepted he will never win.

“In a lot of matches I had the crowd against me and I had to find a way to thrive,” he stated. “I managed to do that, not always, but I feel like I learnt how to handle it and get the result.

“I couldn’t always keep my calm. I have broken rackets, done things I am not proud of. I have no problem saying I made mistakes. A flawed human being, no doubt. At the same time I have tried not to be too harsh with myself because I did earlier in my career. I was my biggest critic.

“Now I show more compassion to myself and look for ways to improve, not just with my game but my mentality, my emotional state. I’m looking for the formula that keeps you in an optimal state of mind — but I don’t think it exists.

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“You’re playing in 40 degrees Celsius, against someone you should normally beat, the crowd is against you and maybe that morning you’ve had an argument with your spouse that affects you when you are most challenged on the court. But you still have to find a way to win.”

“Do I want to be loved? I think at the beginning of my career I really tried to be, how can I say this, a bit more connected with the crowd, particularly in places where they loved Federer and Nadal more, or Andy Murray for that matter.

“But at the same time, I understood there are various factors why I will not be supported more than them. So I asked myself, do I keep on trying to win over the crowds or accept it and move on? Be my authentic self, whether they like that person or not?”

Djokovic also revisited one of the darkest moments of his career, as he was deported from Australia in January 2022 due to his decision not to take a Covid vaccine.

After initially getting an exemption to enter Australia, the Serbian was then detained by immigration services following a backlash against his arrival and he blames the media for misrepresenting the story.

“Because of the way it was reported, a lot of people think I illegally entered the country and that I was deported because I was not vaccinated,” he said.

“I want to say what actually happened. It is not true that I forced my way into Australia or that I didn’t have the right papers to enter. On the contrary I had the papers and the medical exemption that was granted to me by an independent medical board in Australia.

“What the media did not widely report was that there were two people — a female player (Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic) and a men’s coach (Filip Serdarusic of Croatia) — who had both entered the country with the same medical exemption that I had, no problem.

“The woman (Voracova) had even played a match. When I was stopped the problems then began for them. Within a day or two they were deported. I would never have gone there if I knew I was not entitled to be there. I am not that crazy. I did it because I knew I was 100 per cent granted access.

“People think I am antivax. I am not antivax. I am pro freedom to choose what is right for you, what is going into your body. I decided not to be vaccinated and that meant I was not able to play in America for two years. I accepted that.

“I did an interview with the BBC’s Amol Rajan and was asked whether I was ready to sacrifice the chance to be remembered as arguably the greatest player, and I said yes, I was.”