Novak Djokovic: The Enigma of Tennis

Logan Johnson ’26 in Sports | February 17, 2023

Novak Djokovic has been labeled boring, a cheater, classless, resilient, and the greatest of all time throughout his nearly two-decade span of dominance in the tennis world. With his win at the Australian Open this year, Djokovic tied with Rafael Nadal for the record of men’s grand slams at 22 wins. Despite all that he has accomplished, however, the love that he believes he expects and deserves has been absent. Although his contemporaries, Federer and Nadal, receive endless praise wherever they go, especially at their favorite tournaments, Wimbledon and Roland Garros respectively, Djokovic is often met with mixed reactions, as some consider him to lack the graciousness and sportsmanship that his rivals are known for. Numerous examples of controversies on and off the court have plagued his popularity throughout his years on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour. 
One of Djokovic’s most notable controversies off-court is his stance on the Covid-19 vaccine and the failure of the Adria Tour. His refusal to become vaccinated banned him from his best tournament, the Australian Open in 2022. Despite the ban, however, Djokovic continued to maintain his stance on the vaccine, stating in interviews that he was simply exercising his personal freedom and wasn't against vaccination. This choice drew criticism from the public, who saw his refusal as irresponsible during a pandemic. The Adria Tour, which was organized by Djokovic and other top players, was also a source of controversy. The tournament was criticized for not following proper health protocols, and several players, including Djokovic, tested positive for Covid-19 throughout its course. His decisions led to widespread criticism and accusations of carelessness and putting the safety of others at risk.
On the court, Djokovic’s actions have painted him as a bad sport who cannot control his emotions. Tennis commentator Rennae Stubs stated that “He has outbursts on court! Smashed the net at the French Open, threw his racquet that almost hit a ball kid in Serbia. I could go on.” These incidents have added to the perception that Djokovic is not a gracious player and does not show respect for the traditions and rules of tennis. These actions starkly contrast his rivals, Federer and Nadal, who have been known throughout their careers for excellent sportsmanship and class. During the 2020 U.S. Open, he was disqualified from the tournament for hitting a ball at a line girl out of anger. This incident was the final nail in the coffin, tennis legend John McEnroe claimed, who stated that Djokovic would be “the bad guy for the rest of his career.” 
Djokovic’s style of play has also been heavily criticized, being accused of playing unremarkable grinding baseline tennis. Legendary tennis player Pat Cash believes Novak’s play style has “taken a lot of the skill out of tennis” calling his strategy “mundane.” His total dominance over the sport has also prevented the growth and emergence of future stars in the game. Having practically a stranglehold on most tournaments he participates in, Djokovic has suppressed future stars from gaining popularity and notoriety in the tennis world. Examples include his continued dominance over younger players, such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, and Nick Kyrgios in grand slam finals. 
Djokovic's dominance over the past decade has been unrivaled in the history of the sport, and he has cemented his place in tennis history as one of the greatest players of all time. His behavior on and off the court, however, has left a blemish on his reputation and has led some to question whether his success has come at the expense of the growth and future generation of tennis. With Federer retiring and Nadal nearing the end of his career, the sport needs new blood to continue its growth in the next generation. Djokovic's dominance has prevented other players from achieving success and gaining recognition, and his controversial actions have overshadowed his on-court achievements many times.