THE 2020 US Open is halfway done and I’m ready to make a declaration: let’s award the trophy to Novak Djokovic. He has won 26 out of 26 matches this year and is only four matches shy of winning another major.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic have combined—since 2003—to win 56 of the last 67 majors. That’s an 84 percent crazy-to-explain winning clip. And since R & R are absent in New York, then let’s greet him in advance, “Congrats, Novak!”
But as dominating as Novak has been on-court, his off-court woes have been head-scratching. Federer, whose favorite quotation is, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice,” and Nadal are two of the most likeable athletes. Sadly, the same can’t be said of Novak.
It started with his Adria Tour last June. He invited Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki and Borna Coric to his home country of Serbia. Nothing wrong with that. But here’s what went wrong: they did not wear masks and wrapped their arms around each other like best friends. They partied like Covid-19 was the name of a cocktail concoction. The result: Coric, Troicki and Dimitrov contracted the virus and so did Novak and his wife Jelena. The exhibition tour ended and the world No. 1 was the world’s number one target for contempt. Strike one.
Here’s another criticism: Novak used to be the president of the ATP Player Council (the ATP is the organizing body of men’s pro tennis). He stabbed the group. Last week, he resigned from the ATP and announced the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) — an independent players union. The problem is, while Djokovic got the support of several of his fellow pros, many opposed him.
Andy Murray said, “The fact that the women aren’t part of it, I feel like that would send a significantly – well, just a much more powerful message personally if the WTA were onboard.”
Nadal added: “The world is living a difficult and complicated situation. I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction. It is time for unity, not for separation.”
Federer concurred with Nadal. Strike two.
Another complaint: At the US Open, while almost all players are staying in two hotels with very strict restrictions, Novak is relaxing in a private house with a $40,000 rental. Sure, that amount is miniscule compared to the $3,000,000 champion’s purse that he’ll win next Sunday. But it’s the arrogant way that he described the situation in an interview, saying: “Being in a hotel, you’re unable to open the window in the room... I saw the hotel. The hotel is not in a best position in terms of having nature around. It’s very close to the highway.”
Did he have to be so callous and insensitive, denouncing the living conditions of his fellow players? Strike three.
What does all this mean? Nothing. Novak doesn’t care. He knows he will never get the same universal love embraced by Rafa and Roger. This hostility, in fact, will motivate him to prove everyone wrong and spur him to win his 18th Grand Slam trophy.