I hated Novak Djokovic when he’s just an upcoming player. I hated it when he kept beating Roger Federer in their latest encounters. The reason for the hate was simple. The guy known for his impressions of players as a new face on the block took offense when Andy Roddick, another favorite of mine, did a comical impression of him. Silly how some things start.
And over the years, I’ve cheered for the guys who faced Djokovic, even if he dispatched them regularly, Federer and Rafael Nadal included. Here’s a funny thing about Nadal, too.
If you love Federer, you can’t help but hate Nadal a bit, since the Spaniard seemed to have gotten the Swiss’ number. But, over the years, like Roger, Nadal struggled with injuries and for me, everything changed in the 2017 Australian Open Final. Then, I thought, I’d be happy with whoever wins.
But last Sunday, I was still overly pro-Federer. I wanted him to get to No. 21. I turned off after that first set loss, but thanks to Google alerts, I was aware that he was up 3-0 in the second set and I thought it was an error. So, I watched the match again and cheered and jeered every Djokovic error, just like the crowd.
After the third set, I tuned out again, only to tune back in when I learned he was a break up in the fourth. In the fifth set, with Roger up 40-15 and 8-7, I was so sure title No. 21 was in the bag.
But we all know what happened. And something funny happened to me too. Sure, I slammed the table after Federer lost that game and that chance at No. 21, but the loathing of Djokovic disappeared for me. I thought, why hold a grudge over what someone did when he was young? We were all young ones and we all did something stupid once. And didn’t Djokovic, like Nadal and Federer, suffer from an injury and fought back to return to elite level?
At 12-12, I still wanted Federer to win, of course, but I no longer mind Djokovic winning. The guy surely deserved it and worked damn hard for Grand Slam No. 16.
And besides, he’s no longer that Djokovic of old. Just check what he said after the game.
“It’s hard to not be aware of the crowd. You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise.”
“Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps. When you don’t, then you have to find it within, I guess.”
Though he longs that eventually, the crowd will be rooting for him the way it has for Federer in his 37th year, he hasn’t really set it on himself to surpass Nadal and Federer.
And here’s my favorite part of what he said, post-match.
“It depends not only on myself, it depends on circumstances in life. I’m not just a tennis player, I’m a father and a husband. I don’t have any obligation to play. I really don’t have any commitment to play tennis. I play it because I really love it and I have support of the closest people in my life.”
For years, I viewed Novak simply as a tennis player, unlike Federer and eventually Nadal. Last Sunday, his super human effort to beat the greatest of all time made me view the soon to be greatest of all time as who he is, a great human being.