New Novak Djokovic accusations cement the reality that he operates under different rules

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic is wearing a knee brace at the 2024 Wimbledon Championships
Novak Djokovic is wearing a knee brace at the 2024 Wimbledon Championships

Novak Djokovic has always been forced to deal with  cynicism his fellow tennis greats have never contended with and there appears to be nothing he can do to change the narrative around him.

Djokovic’s remarkable return to action following knee surgery on June 5 might well have been celebrated as a mark to his dedication and devotion to a sport he mastered long ago, yet there has been an undercurrent of pessimism surrounding his first three wins at Wimbledon.

Clearly, there is no financial or sporting need for Djokovic to continue to put his body on the line after he ensured long ago that he will finish his career as the greatest male tennis player of all time statistically.

With the most Grand Slam titles and most weeks as world No 1 by a considerable distance, Djokovic won the right be be hailed as the greatest ahead of his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal long ago.

Yet the respect a player of his standing could expect seems destined to elude him.

That much has been evident once again in recent days, with doubts over how Djokovic has managed to get himself in shape to challenge for a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title so soon after knee surgery a hot topic of debate on social media.

Even former players are questioning the recovery time for Djokovic, with Italian tennis great Adriano Panatta going public in doubting the Serbian’s morale recovery.

“Let’s say there’s a big mystery surrounding him,” Panatta told Libero Quotidiano. “How is he? Is he bluffing? And his recently operated knee?

“At 37, he’s not the ‘Djoker’ of the good days, but I would always be afraid to cross rackets with someone who has triumphed on Centre Court seven times.”

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It’s hard to believe that a legend of Djokovic’s stature would be accused of ‘bluffing’ an injury in any other sport, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo generally receiving lavish media coverage over the course of their football careers and golfing great Tiger Woods afforded reverential status despite his high-profile indiscretions.

Djokovic is on a similar pedestal of sporting greatness as those mentioned above, yet the respect he is surely due remains absent.

Meanwhile, tennis fans continue to offer begrudging respect to the Serbian who continues to defy the sands of time at the age of 37 and the media coverage of the tennis GOAT rarely glows at a level you would expect for a legend of the game.

For a player who gives the media so much, the payback seems curiously muted.

Tennis365 has attended each of Djokovic’s press conferences at Wimbledon over the last week and they rarely disappoint.

This is a sporting giant that turns often mundane questions into compelling answers, with his long and detailed vision for the future of tennis outlined in an extended media briefing following his third round win against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.

“I think we have to, other than slams, figure out how to attract a young audience,” Djokovic told the media.

“I think tennis, on the one hand, is in a good place, but at the same time when we look at Formula 1, for example, and what they have done in terms of marketing in terms of growth of the sport, in terms of the races around the world and how popular they are, I think we need to do a better job on our respective tours.

“The Grand Slams are always going to do well. I think our tours need to do better and we are lucky to be very historic and very global sport. But I think one of the studies showed that tennis is the third or fourth most popular sport in the world, most watched sport in the world, along with cricket.

“Number one is obviously football, or soccer as you call it in America. Second one is basketball. Then it’s tennis and cricket. But tennis is number 9 or 10 on the list of all sports in terms of using its popularity, commercialising or capitalising on that. I think there is a huge space for growth. That we are quite fractioned as a sport.

“So there’s quite a bit of things I think for us to really collectively look at and try to improve it. And we need to grow the number of players that live from this sport.

“Very rarely do I see in the media that you guys are writing about the fact that you have only 350 or 400 players, both men, women, singles, doubles, across the board who live from this sport on this planet. That’s for me deeply concerning.”

It is the kind of thought-provoking commentary Djokovic regularly provides, yet the wider tennis media don’t seem to appreciate how fortunate they are to have an icon in their sport who is a household name in every corner of the world.

You might not like this sporting giant and you might not even want him to win another Grand Slam.

But there is no denying that Djokovic, along with Federer and Nadal, have done more to promote tennis over the last two decades than anyone in positions of power within the sport’s governing bodies.

That reality, along with the relentless success Djokovic has enjoyed on the court in the greatest tennis era of them all, should earn him more respect than he gets.