GOAT or No, You’ve Got to Earn the Love
This is a great essay, Nate, and you make quite a case.
I, however, am among the legions who just can’t stand the guy and it has nothing to do with his tennis or his possible claim to GOAT.
I wrote this, an intended satire about the phenomenon of sports hate, but you can see how I feel right away —
This is just my opinion, of course, and it's consistent with all sports-hate; We never actually hate the slow guy in…the-cauldron.com
I got in trouble for it, too.
Djokovic is an amazing tennis player, a thrill to watch if you can focus on skill alone. My dislike has nothing to do with his challenging Fed and Nadal or his country of origin (that would be ridiculous — one of the most beautiful things about tennis is its international nature).
I have enjoyed watching any number of players challenge Fed and Nadal — Fognini’s recent defeat of Rafa at the US Open was wild and entertaining (as it almost always is with Fabio) and I have cheered many others (including Baghdatis, who I not only have heard of but have liked a lot). I am a true fan of the game and almost everyone who plays it.
No, my dislike of Djokovic comes in spite of his arguably GOAT status. He’s got the game, for sure, but it’s not enough. I have witnessed, on too many occasions, his bratty, whiny, classless behavior and am out of patience.
Yes, he’s cleaned it up. It was clear at some point that PR people were desperately trying to guide him into happier waters with the crowd, but you see it bubbling up in his demeanor all the time. He’s been shitty to ball kids, fans, and opponents, his family behaved awfully in the early days — he just rubs me the wrong way and always has. His prickly attitude has probably been negatively magnified by the presence of Federer and Nadal, two more perfect portraits of sports class you could not hope to find.
I’m less interested in the numbers (though if we want to talk numbers, what of the Masters— Rafa leads at 27, with Fed and Novak at 24). I love the game and they all play beautifully. I love watching Dolgopolov play and I get a kick out of Gulbis’ wacky forehand. Monfils and Fognini are magnificent entertainers (not too shabby tennis players, either) and there are so many others who make spectating worth every minute.
It doesn’t matter, ultimately, this endless conversation about the GOAT. Federer will be remembered for his gorgeous gliding game, deftly plucking the ball off his shoes, his elegance on and off the field. Nadal, for his heroic grinding style with all that crazy spin, those baseline shots from his knees, the way he curved the ball around the net to clip the line, and his sweet stoic class. And Djokovic will be remembered for his athleticism, his astounding ability to acrobat around the court to get to every single ball. But he will also be remembered by some for his antics, his early retirements, his jeering family, his lack of grace.
I feel bad for him and his inability to get the love. He’s a brilliant talent and probably not a bad guy. But I find myself rooting for anyone on the other side of the net.