Roger Federer reveals his honest opinion on a young Novak Djokovic and admits he lacked respect

Ewan West
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in 2006

Roger Federer has made the honest confession that he did not give Novak Djokovic “the respect he deserved” when the Serbian first emerged as a challenger. 

The Swiss icon admitted he was not “fully convinced” by the hype around a young Djokovic as he feels his future rival had “technical flaws” in his game.

Federer and Djokovic formed one of the greatest ever tennis rivalries, with the Serbian winning 27 of their 50 matches between 2006 and 2020 before the Swiss retired in 2022.

The duo first met in the opening round of the 2006 Monte Carlo Masters, when Federer, who was the world No 1, prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 against Djokovic, who had come through qualifying.

There appeared to be an edge to the pair’s relationship during their rivalry, particularly in the years following Djokovic’s arrival on tour.

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Speaking in the new Amazon Prime documentary, Federer: Twelve Final Days, Federer candidly recalled his early impression of Djokovic.

“I think he’s been a little bit misunderstood,” declared the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

“I played him in Monaco the very first time and I walked off the court and thought, ‘Yeah, he’s okay’.

“Even though there was some hype around him, I wasn’t really fully convinced. I think I didn’t give Novak the respect he deserved because of his technical flaws. I felt like Novak had a very extreme forehand grip and his backhand for me wasn’t as fluid as it is nowadays.

“But then he ironed those things out super well and became an unbelievable monster of a player.”

Federer also weighed in on the way his fans — as well as supporters of his other great rival, Rafael Nadal — reacted to Djokovic.

“I guess he was the party crasher of Rafa and Roger fans,” Federer continued.

“There was a lot of Rafa-Roger love there, so when Novak came probably a lot of people said, ‘Look, we don’t need a third guy. We’re happy with Roger and Rafa’.

“The Federer fans at the beginning didn’t really like him because they just thought, ‘Roger’s a bit more easy, he does it with ease’.

“Then Novak came in with his strong personality and that unbelievable grit of wanting to win at all costs. I think also Novak was triggered by the relationship with the fans. I think that deep focus maybe scared some people away.

“I think he’s been a little bit misunderstood. I look past the media and I see at the end the man he is. If I take away his game, who is he? What are his values? I know he cares very deeply about his family.”

During the 2024 Australian Open, Djokovic named Federer when asked if any older players were critical of how he behaved in his early years in the sport.

“That’s a good question. I mean, I know certainly Federer didn’t like the way I was behaving at the beginning. I think it didn’t sit with him well. I don’t know about the others,” the 24-time Major winner said.

“I guess I wasn’t the favourite type of guy to some of the top guys because I was not afraid to say that I want to be the best player in the world. I was kind of – not kind of – I was confident, and I felt like I have the game to back it up.

“I never, ever lacked respect. Whenever I start a match, before the match or finish the match, I would always greet the opponent, always acknowledge. Respect is something that I was taught that needs to be present regardless of what is happening.

“Obviously on the court a lot of things can happen in a kind of heat of a battle. It was very long time ago now, 20 years since I made my first debut I think on the professional tour.

“It’s really hard to say who liked me more or less. I think I named one, so I don’t know. I can’t recall others.”

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