What more does Djokovic have to do to be recognised as the GOAT?

Australian Open, featured, Novak Djokovic, Tennis

Novak Djokovic is the greatest male tennis player of all time – without a doubt.

Earlier this week Christian Montegan wrote an article that called for Djokovic to be shown “more respect”, and that’s entirely appropriate, but the real question is: why are people questioning his greatness?

Here are some of the reasons and explanations

To start with, he’s a Serb in a sport traditionally dominated by western Europeans along with Americans, Australians and the odd Englishman, Spaniard or South American. Very few eastern European men have found major success on the tennis circuit – Czech Jan Kodes and Georgian Alex Metreveli come to mind, and they could be considered journeymen who would present as little more than early-round practice opponents for the likes of the elite John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall and Jimmy Connors.

The first eastern European interloper of any substance was Ilie Nastase from Romania. In his early days he was known by the press as ‘Nasty’ Nastase because of his on-court antics and protests. It must also be remembered that the open era began during the Cold War, so eastern Europeans tended to be seen in the West as the natural bad guys, so while Nastase’s talent was unquestioned, the template of the Iron Curtain baddie was set.

Novak Djokovic celebrates.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Nastase was never truly accepted, and questions always remained about him because he wasn’t part of the ‘club’, a feeling Arthur Ashe no doubt experienced too. But neither Ashe nor Nastase was ever as good or as consistent as Djokovic. Ivan Lendl was a favourite target as a robotic eastern European player, the real Terminator.

We can accept a baddie having one good tournament, but ten Australian Open titles? That’s just unthinkable!

The second reason for Djokovic’s alignment is natural feelings of doubt that flow from being an outsider – having self-doubt, having few friends on the circuit and being suspicious of tournament organisers, referees and judges.

It’s so much easier to find a fault in an outlier, as the Williams sisters found out. Resultantly Djokovic gets angry on court, usually with his team, but it reflects the different personality traits. He was rightly disqualified for striking a US line judge with a stray ball – though it was clearly a pure accident – and sometimes these matters further reduce self-belief and self-confidence.

Deporting him from Australia will surely be reflected upon as a publicity stunt gone wrong by the then immigration minister.

Further, we shouldn’t forget that Novak grew up in a war zone. What effects that would have on a kid as he grows up are difficult to fathom – if we accept that children suffered adverse consequences from COVID lockdowns, imaging years of having bombs falling overhead.

The numbers are now leaning in Djokovic’s favour. With his Australian Open title he’s equalled Rafael Nadal for career grand slams, with 22. Roger Federer stopped at 20.

No one can question that Federer has the most elegance the others can’t match. He also is the most popular, largely due to his style of play and good-mannered nature.

Nadal is all power, but Djokovic comes a close second to Federer with his textbook functional style – and boy does it work. If we compare them to cricketers, Federer would be Mark Waugh, Djokovic would be Steve Waugh and Nadal would be Matthew Hayden.

Respect to Djokovic is long overdue.

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