Former ATP star claims Novak Djokovic ‘wanted to be Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal’

Ewan West
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer at the Laver Cup

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has declared that Novak Djokovic “had a period where he didn’t want to be himself” and instead “wanted to be Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.”

The former world No 5 believes Djokovic is now himself and argued the Serbian would have been loved if he was “completely honest” and assumed his “warrior image” from the start.

The incredible achievements and rivalries of the ‘Big Three’ of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer made the years shared by the three icons a golden period in tennis.

Djokovic and Nadal have faced off a men’s Open Era record of 59 times from 2006 to 2022, with the former holding a 30-29 edge. The pair could resume their rivalry in 2024, with Nadal set to return from a lengthy injury layoff.

The 36-year-old Serbian also won 27 of the 50 matches he contested against Federer between 2006 and 2020, with the Swiss legend retiring in 2022.

The world No 1 has won a men’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, while Nadal and Federer sit second and third on the all-time list with 22 and 20 respectively.

Djokovic claimed seven titles from just 12 ATP events entered this year as he won 56 of his 63 matches across all events (88.9%) and ended the season as world No 1 for a record-extending eighth time.

READ MORE: Andrey Rublev makes honest Novak Djokovic confession as he targets mindset change in 2024

The tennis great won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments in 2023, while he was also a runner-up at Wimbledon, losing an epic five-set final to Carlos Alcaraz.

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Speaking on the Generation Do It Yourself podcast, Tsonga argued Djokovic once wanted to be like his two biggest rivals, but has since embraced his own image.

“I consider that he had a period where he didn’t want to be himself. He wanted to be Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, when perhaps he should have remained himself all along,” the Frenchman said.

“I think today he is himself. And even if it is divisive, I think that’s why it is appreciated by many people. Because now he’s completely honest.

“He doesn’t do things to be appreciated. He does things because he considers that they deserve to be done that way. We gain a lot from being ourselves.

“He wanted to get away from this warrior image that he has, because he is a Serb, who experienced difficult things in his childhood. So he’s a warrior, he should have assumed it from the start. I think he would have been loved for that.”

Tsonga reached the final of the 2008 Australian Open as an unseeded player and was beaten by Djokovic in four sets as the then 20-year-old claimed his maiden Major title. The Frenchman won six of the 23 matches he contested against Djokovic from 2008 to 2019

The 38-year-old – who won 18 ATP titles, including two at Masters 1000 level – called an end to his impressive 18-year career after the 2022 French Open.

READ MORE: Novak Djokovic hailed for embracing ‘villain’ role and tackling haters by former world No 9