opinion / by Beckett Chung
Novak Djokovic has just won his 8th Australian Open against Dominic Thiem. Thiem is new to competing in such important stages yet somehow he had most of the crowd’s support. How could this happen?
Wasn’t Djokovic the Favourite?
In tennis, fans usually love the favourites. In his castle at Wimbledon, Federer is loved more than any player, except maybe the local hero, Sir Andy Murray. In his castle at Roland Garros, Nadal is loved more than any player. So how is it possible that in his castle – Melbourne Park – that Djokovic is not the crowd favourite in the championship match against a guy who isn’t even Australian. I’m sure it’s not a misunderstanding between Australian and Austrian that Thiem won the hearts of the crowd that night. It’s because we demonize Novak Djokovic. Tennis fans hate him, but we shouldn’t.
Think back to high school, when the politics of social popularity were at their peak. You had a girlfriend, or maybe a boyfriend (unless you were awkward and single). You are hanging out with your significant other in the park, or in the mall, and then some awkward single person (seen above) tags along. A third wheel, how inconvenient and annoying. Is that really fair? All this person wants is to be part of the fun. To be included. To be loved. But that can’t happen because the other two people are so focused on themselves and each other. That’s the social dynamic of the Djokovic and the Big Three, or should I say, the Big Third Wheel.
I’m not trying to discount Djokovic’s personality or his achievements. He’s the most clutch tennis player of all time, winning 88% of his slam finals, and leading both Federer and Nadal in their respective head-to-head’s. He’s a king of diverse achievements, claiming 17 slams, 276 weeks at Number 1, holder of The Grand Slam (all 4 majors at once) and the Golden Masters, having won all 9 in his career. Despite these achievements, it seems like he rarely has the crowd on his side. No matter how good of a tennis player you are, it is impossible to overcome the social dynamics imposed upon you under the public’s spotlight. Three’s a crowd, and the crowd knows it.
The Big 3rd Wheel?
Federer was the first to greatness. He embodies what a tennis player should be, beautiful technique, acrobatic grace, and gentlemanlike class. He’s a god who wields a racquet’s wrath. Nadal came next, an underdog teenager who played the game with grit, speed, and strength. His game contrasted Federer’s perfectly. Power versus spin. Offense versus defense. Quiet strikes versus loud grunts. Righty versus lefty. One-hander versus two-hander. The perfection of this rivalry was so ideally crafted that it felt scripted. In another timeline, I’m sure fans would have loved to see Federer and Nadal battle it out their careers, just the two of them. That’s why Djokovic is so under-appreciated.
Federer and Nadal had split the tennis fanbase in two. People had committed themselves to an existing player before Djokovic had asserted himself as a real GOAT candidate. There simply isn’t enough love in tennis’ (Tennys’?) heart for 3 GOATs. Just like the two romantic highschoolers are so focused on each other to properly acknowledge their weird single friend, the tennis world is too focused on Fedal to properly acknowledge Djokovic.
by Beckett Chung, stats guru and media cowboy @theslicetennis
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