My immediate feeling is that Novak isn’t as popular as Roger or Rafa simply because he’s not them.
Make no mistake, Djokovic is a very likable, popular and respected guy but it’s true that he doesn’t command the same level of international following as Federer or Nadal. At first glance this is all the more puzzling as he’s been the dominant force in tennis over the past few years and has enjoyed greater success than Federer and Nadal.
I bet the above comment is has probably infuriated many Federer and Nadal fans already. It’s interesting how people have their favourites and will emotionally defend them no matter what others say or what the facts point out. He/she is the best, greatest, smartest, etc. and that’s that!
Sports fan psychology is not my strong suit but I suspect it has something to do with in/out group dynamics, social identity and the good feeling fans get when their favourite player wins. Basking in their reflective glory so to speak.
Personally I don’t get too emotional about tennis these days. I see it as it is, a game, a sport for play or entertainment (of course when I was on the tour it felt very different). However, If you ask me about Australian rules football or music I’m very passionate! So it’s easy for me to understand the passion of tennis fans even though I don’t have favourites among the tops guys.
I think one of the reasons Roger Federer is so popular (aside from his immense achievements) is that he’s somewhat old school. He brought the old generation style (mine) into the power era. Combining classic style with the modern technology of power racquets and string, he pulled off shots thought near impossible before. Add impressive athletic abilities and a stoic like poise under pressure and it’s hard to imagine a world where he wouldn’t be as popular as he is.
Take a step forward and we have Rafael Nadal. A powerhouse of a player. Never in tennis had we seen a forehand like that. Not to mention the power and spin on the ground strokes. Or the physical presence he has on court. Combine his match intensity with his humble personality and it’s easy to see why he excited a new generation of fans.
Suddenly, with Roger and Rafa we had the rivalry we’d been missing since Sampras and Agassi. Two players with different styles. Elegance vs power. This rivalry dominated the tennis world for a long time and allowed Roger and Rafa to become two of the most popular players ever (for good reason).
Take another step forward and you have Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. They are the new boys in town trying to kill the Kings and no one wants their kings to be killed… well not a popular king anyway.
So now we’ve got Novak Djokovic, young, confident and in the early days perhaps a little brash and grumpy. He didn’t have the poise of Federer or the geniality of Nadal and his style isn’t as flashy (yet unbelievably effective). So for many people those on court personalities were not as nice to watch. Add to this the fact that he retired from some big matches for seemingly (to the outside world) trivial reasons and Novak’s got a bad first impression on his hands. Then factor in that he’s challenging the thrones of two of the most beloved players ever.
It’s easy to see why he hasn’t yet achieved the fandom and popularity of players like Federer and Nadal isn’t it…
As Djokovic has clearly demonstrated he can beat both Nadal and Federer in their primes so his trailing fan following isn’t because he’s not as good as those guys. In fact, his success against Roger and Rafa may be a small part as to why he’s not as popular as them.
I’ve always had tremendous respect for Djokovic and that has been reinforced after his unbelievable performance in the US Open 2015 final. In that match Novak not only had to compete against a Federer playing some of the very best tennis of his career, but also 23,000 screaming fans! Many of which were rude and very disrespectful. It was one of, if not the greatest performance I have ever seen on a tennis court! If you were there in person you would have to agree. He was mentally tougher than anyone I’ve seen. Playing under pressure time and again as Federer relentlessly attacked, Novak somehow withstood the pressure and came up with amazing shot after shot.
Like I said before, I don’t have an emotional attachment so I watch all their matches and don’t mind who wins. I just want to see great tennis and these guys rarely disappoint. But I expect and hope people come to love Novak as much as Roger and Rafa.
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