Novak Djokovic may not be the most popular of champions, but his resilience is unmatched
Novak Djokovic may not be the most popular of champions, but his resilience is unparalleled in men’s tennis, writes Michael Hincks.
Few players walk out onto tennis’ grandest courts and play the pantomime villain as often as Novak Djokovic.
It is not a role he has taken on gladly - often showing his discontent when jeers are directed his way, or shushing the crowd after winning a point - but it is a role that he appears to thrive in.
Of his 46 meetings with Roger Federer, and 52 with Rafael Nadal, you would struggle to find an occasion where Djokovic had the majority of support in the stadium. Novak may have his ‘NoleFam’, but the Fed fanatics and Nadal enthusiasts have always turned up in greater numbers.
And yet, he still boasts a positive head-to-head record against the pair, proof that he will not be deterred, even when thousands are against you.
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Sunday evening was no different for Djokovic. If anything, it was just another night at the office.
Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro after the US Open finalGetty Images
Facing Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open final, Djokovic again found himself up against a partisan crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium – the sport’s biggest stage – with the closed roof further emphasising how the support was vastly in the Argentine’s favour.
And yet, once more, Djokovic prevailed. The straight-sets victory handed the 31-year-old a 14th Grand Slam title, and back-to-back majors following his victory at Wimbledon.
The 6-3 7-6 6-3 scoreline does not do the match justice, nor does it tell you how hard the Serbian had to fight to dismiss the gutsiest of opponents.
Imagine facing cheers when sending a first serve into the net, or jeers when approaching the umpire due to your dissatisfaction with the balls in play. Just imagine trying to keep your composure when a cauldron of noise greets every winner that flies off your opponent’s racket.
This is what Djokovic faced, and overcame, on Sunday night.
The 95-minute second set played out like a match in its own right, and was where the match was won and lost.
From a break up, Djokovic was pegged back at 3-3 before somehow keeping his composure on serve shortly after, saving three break points in an epic 20-minute game which featured eight deuces.
Novak Djokovic celebrates during the US Open finalGetty Images
Djokovic went on to win the tie-break despite going a mini-break down, stunning the Arthur Ashe crowd into near silence in the process, with Del Potro left a mountain to climb if he was to claim a second Grand Slam.
The crowd were momentarily reinvigorated in the third set when Del Potro broke back once more, but his resistance was broken in the eighth game as Djokovic stole ahead before serving it out for the championship.
It was not to be the fairy-tale ending for Del Potro, some nine years after his first and only Grand Slam triumph, but it was instead a reminder of how no player can match Djokovic’s resilience and ability to perform in such circumstances.
From elbow surgery in February to back-to-back majors come September, Djokovic has clawed his way back up to tennis’ summit and emerged as a champion. And in the process, he has re-opened the debate on who is the greatest male tennis player of all the time.
A 14th Grand Slam title puts him three behind Nadal and six off Federer, and while fans of all three will back their favourite player’s case, there can be no argument over which of the three has overcome the most adversity to reach such dizzying heights.
Novak Djokovic / US OpenGetty Images
Time and again, Djokovic has triumphed in unsupportive environments, and his displays at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows indicate he could continue to do so for a long time.
Plenty of numbers and stats will be thrown around in the aftermath of Djokovic’s victory, but above all else, his spirit must be applauded. His place at tennis' top table is richly deserved, whether he takes the throne when all is said and done remains to be seen - and at this moment in time, it matters little.