The most difficult accomplishment any athlete could hope to attain is winning over the hearts and minds of the crowd. Rising star Djokovic dominated men’s singles tennis over the past year, and despite the fact that he in his career visibly polished away some earlier rougher edges, he still is engaged in the battle to gain the undying adoration of the crowds. Perhaps the likeable Serb will change it at this year’s Australian Open.
This same contest has been a stumbling block to many athletes in a similar position before him, and in some cases their failure to do so brought about an early end to their careers. While having garnered his own share of mass support from the crowds, in each contest where he delivers a crushing defeat to his contemporaries it is clearly evident that while crowds love Novak, they adore Nadal or Federer and would rather see them walk away victorious.
Place him in a tournament anywhere in the world against these two and he simply is not the hero of that match. Despite the multitude of titles he has won and successfully defended, as well as records he broke and set he is still struggling with a lone, silent battle he remains unable to win. Crowd admiration and appreciation is shown him by bucket loads, but the absolute adoration remains missing.
His achievements have reached as high as and exceeded most of his contemporaries, yet the press extols any Federer virtue from his ability to slice sandwiches gracefully, or the fact that he floats rather than walks. Federer even has a built-in cooling system that avoids him ever sweating, even in the midst of a long Australian Open match in the midday sun.
Left-handed Nadal, the “King of Clay” or “Rafa”, a name of endearment amongst his fans, had an aura of invincibility during his prime and provided the perfect contrast to the right-handed graceful “King of Grass” Federer, the two evoked a Yin and Yang adoration amongst the crowds. If you didn’t like Federer there was always Nadal and before them Sampras or Agassi. This leaves Djokovic in a space of his own creation, possibly due to his meteoric rise against these two giants of tennis.