Novak Djokovic may not be a role model, but does he want to be one?

If the above statement has any truth to it, then Novak Djokovic is the very embodiment of Serbia. When the world No. 1 and holder of 20 Grand Slam singles titles takes to the tennis court, it is Serbia who plays against the individual through the net. This explains the quasi-fanatic following he enjoys in his country, with hardcore fans refusing to believe he could do any harm.

And since Djokovic challenged and, many would say, overthrew the duopoly of the immensely popular Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, elsewhere he is often portrayed as the troublesome odd one out, or even the villain, in some circles. He has a head-to-head winning record against his two greatest contemporaries but is still considered the third axis of the triumvirate.

As any screenwriter would agree, too many good guys aren’t always good for a story. It takes a villain, or at least an anti-hero, to intrigue and endanger a story. With the various controversies and unconventional theories the Serb has been associated with – including his refusal to get vaccinated – it’s rather easy to paint him that way.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic walks with his team after landing at Dubai airport after the Australian Federal Court upheld the government’s decision to revoke his visa to play at the Australian Open, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)

The fact that Federer and Nadal have almost always behaved impeccably, in victory and in defeat, as well as openly admiring each other, while Djokovic has often been portrayed as a bubbly star trying too hard to be liked only accentuated this impression. Being kicked out of a Grand Slam tournament (US Open 2020), going on an exhibition tour during the pandemic without any security measures, and being expelled from a country are not what most people would wear as a badge of honor. honor. Admitting to providing incorrect information in an immigration document (the less charitable will say he lied) will not endear the Serb to those who see him as an arrogant superstar who does not want to play by the rules others have to follow. .

Even on the tennis court, Djokovic comes across as someone distinct from both Federer and Nadal. The Swiss star’s skill on the tennis court is blindingly obvious, his ability to shoot almost unparalleled. There is even a very famous article by David Foster Wallace in the New York Times titled Roger Federer as Religious Experience. Nadal’s energy-guzzling style makes his hard work and sweat on the pitch almost tiring to watch, but admirable in its own way.

Djokovic, on the other hand, comes across as a metronome, his error-free playing almost machine-like, making it harder for many fans to understand. The fact that his opponents often feel like bumping into a brick wall makes his game a little less human.

Reflection of his country

It must be said that part of the unfavorable perception of Djokovic can be attributed to his entourage, which sometimes extends throughout his country. His father, Srdan Djokovic, in particular, comes across as a combustible and bitter character, who feels his son is not getting his due despite his achievements on the pitch.

The country itself is a bit of an outlier, with a checkered history. Carved out of the former Yugoslavia in the Balkan Civil War, former Serbian rulers were accused of genocide against other ethnic groups and subsequently felt the military might of Western powers. Djokovic grew up in a war-ravaged country with NATO bombs falling on the empty swimming pool he used as a tennis court. The country can still be wary of the dominant ideas emanating from the West. In many ways, his worldview may have been framed by the conflict in the context of his childhood, causing a feeling of Serbia against the world. It may also explain the defiant crowds that thronged Belgrade airport on Djokovic’s return from Melbourne, taking selfies with him with no fear of the virus. The pandemic might as well not exist in Serbia.

Alternative beliefs

When it comes to his worldview, switching to a gluten-free diet isn’t the only “interesting” belief that Djokovic follows, nor is his opposition to vaccinations. He is a follower of what can loosely be called alternative medicine.

“Looking at all the documents that Oriental medicine, the oldest medicine in the world, Chinese medicine dates back over 5,000 years, there are different ways to heal, to keep your body fit, to keep your mind and soul Everybody has a different way… alternative medicine plays a huge role in my life,” he said in 2018, as quoted by

Novak Djokovic fans A supporter of Novak Djokovic of Serbia holds a banner that reads: ‘We are all Nole (Novak)’ during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Several hundred people gathered outside the Serbian parliament to show their support for Serbia. player Novak Djokovic as he battles Australia’s legal system in a bid to be allowed to stay in the country and compete at the Australian Open later this month. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

This explains the Serb’s reluctance to have elbow surgery, which led to his split with Andre Agassi in 2017. Djokovic resisted going under the knife, believing the injury would heal with alternative treatment. When he finally had to give in, he said he cried for three days because “every time I thought about what I had done, I felt like I had failed myself,” a- he told the Telegraph. He is also freezing with his reluctance to get a coronavirus shot.

His wife Jelena is known for promoting theories like 5G networks causing Covid-19. The association with Spanish tennis coach Pepe Imaz resulted in Djokovic’s gesture of reaching out to all four sides of the court and showing his love to the fans in his heart after every win. It’s a ritual that continues even though the audience has been cheering for their opponent throughout the match. It’s part of a visualization technique that helps him in high-pressure situations and was famously used in the memorable 2019 Wimbledon final against Federer, where Djokovic was seen as the antagonist by fans. .

“When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’, I hear Novak. I try to convince myself,” he said after the game. Whatever one might say about those notions, they definitely work for him, making him a better and more successful tennis player.

Some of the Djokovics’ other beliefs include positive thinking altering the composition of food and water, and four pyramid-shaped hills in a small Bosnian town with healing powers.

He also believes that telekinesis and telepathy are “gifts of that higher order, the source, the god, whatever, that allows us to understand the higher power and the higher order within ourselves.”

her own man

Of course, whatever Djokovic thinks is his business, and by not getting vaccinated, he’s just exercising his personal choice. But by openly expressing opinions unsupported by science, he can sway his legions of followers and fans in the wrong direction.

All this does not necessarily make Djokovic a bad person. Many of his touring contemporaries testify to his helpful and caring gestures, and his many philanthropic endeavors don’t get as much buzz as those of Federer and Nadal.

He was unable to play the Australian Open and thus passed up the opportunity to break the Grand Slam tie with his great rivals. It is also unclear when he will appear in court next, as the virus outbreak has necessitated more restrictions and conditions on international travel. Maybe Djokovic is banking on the pandemic abating soon so business can continue as before. Or he may be persuaded to finally take the hit. Who knows!

But when and where he competes next, it would be interesting to watch the reception he receives from tennis fans. He is a figure that divides the sports world, not the type of role model that many have in mind. But then he may not want to be one.

However, next time on the pitch, it’s bound to be a box office hit in terms of viewership and fans, if they’re allowed into the stands in the first place.

Rebecca R. Santistevan