(September 9) As Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic this week tries to become the first man to win his sport’s “Grand Slam” in 52 years, he deserves far more support and appreciation than fans usually afford him.

Rarely has anyone arguably the greatest of all-time in his sport been so little a fan favorite — and with so little reason for attracting ambivalence or antipathy. A man of winsome wit, a gracious competitor, and a tremendously generous philanthropist, Djokovic should inspire admiration and popularity. Instead, almost every match at almost every venue features more fans cheering for his opponents than for him.

Djokovic, of course, suffers from having two such deservedly popular rivals for the Greatest Of All Time title as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, both of whom also are famously sportsmanlike and philanthropic while also providing better optics than Djokovic does. Federer moves so fluidly that he sometimes appears to float, while Nadal plays with such churning power and speed as to virtually define “excitement.” Both, too, flash megawatt smiles, and both seem somehow more at ease with themselves than Djokovic does.


Djokovic exudes stupendous athletic efficiency rather than gracefulness or excitement. Somehow his facial expressions more often seem taut and pursed than open and approachable. And as the last of the trio to join the GOAT discussion, Djokovic had to contend with exuberant fan bases already established for the other two, with him seeming an interloper.

None of these drawbacks are really the Serb’s fault. Some people seem born with a natural and perhaps unearned grace with which others aren’t blessed. Throw in a few (albeit exceedingly rare) episodes of very human peevishness from Djokovic, and his role becomes set: not really as the black hat, not hated, but just not beloved. [The rest of this column is at this link. As you probably know, Djokovic lost in the finals, leaving the major-title haul in a three-way tie at 20. Stay tuned for next year!)


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