This is why Djokovic is both unequaled and unattainable

Champion athletes are epic heroes of the modern world. They embody certain qualities – patience, courage, endurance, grace and will – in a way that other types of celebrities cannot. No matter how many social media followers a politician or a movie star has, they are never given the unconditional praise that the greatest athletes command because both politics and cinema are seen as showbiz in this world-weary time. Is. It is only in sports that the public figure is unquestionably accepted as a real person. We instinctively suspect that people like Modi or Akshay Kumar work to build public image, but we believe that with Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kohli, you get what you see.

This undeniable belief is one reason why the game’s protagonists are properly tragic individuals when they fall from grace. When Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja were accused of match-fixing, horrified fans backed down in a way that is unique to the sport. No one will be surprised if a newspaper says that a charismatic Indian politician has taken a bribe or even murdered a rival. nor is filmy Fandom is likely to gasp if it turns out that a movie star has ties to a criminal underworld. But when Steve Smith cheats, or Lance Armstrong wins his Tour de France title with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, his spectators are almost as dramatically shocked as even the toughest athlete unquestioningly. Innocence is presumptively assumed.

Which brings us to the curious case of Novak Djokovic. The greatest player in the history of professional men’s tennis is locked in litigation against the Australian state, and apart from his Serbian compatriots, cynical liberals and fiercely anti-vaxxers, it seems no one is on his side. This is particularly strange because of the role of Australian politicians, both federal and state, in creating this mess where Djokovic turns up in Australia with a visa and a valid waiver, and is then denied entry and detained. It’s taken for granted, volunteering and embarrassing.

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, first tried to hand the money to state officials, who immediately returned it to Morrison’s court, arguing that the country’s borders were the business of the federal government. Then, when Morrison realized that public opinion was outraged by the special exemption granted to a player notorious for his opposition to vaccination, when Australians had toppled the most stringent regulations to keep Covid under control, he did it in the public interest. Decided to grandeur. Djokovic’s visa was canceled by immigration officials.

It should have been the perfect setting for a wave of sympathy for Djokovic, this spectacle of an athlete being thwarted by an opaque bureaucracy and calculating politicians. And for a moment, there it was. An Australian court overturned the visa cancellation decision and ruled that Djokovic had been treated unfairly by immigration officials. The editors of the newspaper began calling on the Australian government to resolve this embarrassing mess. Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player with a history of confrontation with Djokovic, said that the way Djokovic was treated, he was embarrassed as a tennis player and an Australian.

But the moment has passed. At the time of writing, the Australian Immigration Minister has exercised his discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa. Currently world number four Stefan Tsitsipas has publicly accused Djokovic of playing by his own rules and endangering the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal has clearly said that great tournaments are bigger than any individual tennis player. It is strange that this great player who won the Australian Open nine The Times should have received so little public support in Australia and elsewhere.

A big reason for this lack of empathy is Djokovic’s disjointed state. In times of this pandemic, Djokovic’s blatant disregard for precautionary rules and regulations strikes people as deaf and entitled. His track record doesn’t help. Djokovic organized a tennis tournament at the height of a COVID wave, where spotless, unadulterated players helped make the event a COVID hotspot. Australian public opinion quickly turned against him due to new revelations about discrepancies and misleading entries in his application to enter Australia to play the Australian Open.

Djokovic had claimed medical exemption on the grounds that he had recently been infected with Kovid in mid-December and had recovered. It was learned that the day after this alleged infection he presented awards to young tennis players in Serbia and shortly afterwards he did a photoshoot with a French magazine. He exacerbated these violations by falsely claiming on his travel declaration that he had not traveled in the fortnight before departure for Australia, when he had actually traveled between Belgrade and Spain.

It is difficult for a sports public to maintain faith in an athlete’s innocence when he is caught breaking the rules and then lying about these violations. It comes across as a form of cheating – and nothing is more deadly to an athlete’s reputation. But that’s not a sufficient explanation for the massive backlash against Djokovic. It’s hard to imagine Nadal being treated this way by French immigration officials, or in fact Federer being detained by British border officials without tennis fans from countries that play Roland Garros and Wimbledon. I am rallying behind them for their great deeds. There’s something else at work here.

A straightforward explanation might be that Djokovic perpetuated a rivalry between Federer and Nadal, in which the tennis public was heavily invested, and that these embattled fans were actively hostile to the Serbian negotiator’s idea of ​​separating his gods. Huh. There’s something in it. You could argue that there is no reason why Djokovic, arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time, should not displace Federer the way Federer displaced Sampras, but you would be wrong because Federer The rise coincided with the end of Sampras’ career, while Djokovic has been forced to contend with the sporting presence of two remarkably durable rivals.

The unfairness of sharing his fanfare with rivals, who don’t know when to retire, has made Djokovic unstoppable – his win-loss record against Nadal and Federer speaks for itself – and needy. His transparent displeasure that his great victory was not met with public acclaim has pushed Djokovic into a curious passive-aggressive relationship with fans: he yearns both for his praise and to take it back when he wins. Taunt him, as he usually does.

Why do fans forgive Federer for his narcissism and not Djokovic for his failures? Federer is capable of astonishing insensitivity. After defeating Andy Roddick in five memorable sets in the final to win Wimbledon, he unbuttoned his kit bag and took off a jacket with a gold-plated 15 on his back and wore it, as if he were announcing it to the whole world. That it was his victory has been a foregone conclusion. Inappropriately, Federer’s wonderful grace makes his initial self-love seem a slight self-indulgence, but the prick of Djokovic’s grin darkens his less obvious talent like a five-o’clock shadow.

One reason for this is Djokovic’s historical baggage. He is the most famous Serbian in the world. He is a symbol of Serbia, in much the same way that his coach, Goran Ivanisovic, involved Croatia, both nations that emerged from the genocidal civil war that tore apart Yugoslavia. Because of Serbia’s responsibility for the genocidal violence against Bosnian Muslims, there is something of a night about Serbia’s ethnic nationalism. It is a rebel nationalism that refuses to recognize Kosovo’s status as an independent country. This feeling of being victimized, of working hard, of that nation’s self is worked hard. Djokovic has starred in commercials that address the hardships of his childhood, growing up as he did in a country bombed by American jets. During the current cock-up in Melbourne, his father, Srijan Djokovic, claimed that his son was being crucified like a Christ.

In the cosmopolitan world of globalized tennis, Djokovic has cast himself as the contemptible, all-conquering provincial. His public skepticism about vaccination, his accidental misogyny (five years earlier he had questioned the principle of equal prize money for men and women), and his tormented sense of fate, all make it certain that in difficult times (such as their ongoing feud with the Australian state), that would inspire more schadenfreude than sympathy. He will almost certainly win his twenty-first Grand Slam title and overtake Federer and Nadal in the goats’ stakes, at once unequaled and unattainable.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in Delhi. His most recent book is Homeless on Google Earth (Permanent Black, 2013).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV assumes no responsibility or liability for the same.


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