With Flavia Pennetta and Novak Djokovic winning the women’s and the men’s singles title at the US Open title, two distinct results emerged at Flushing Meadows this past weekend. However, noticeably while Pennetta’s win, despite her unexpectedly reaching the final, was greeted with wholehearted cheers, the reaction to Djokovic’s second US Open crown was far more sedate and, in some corners, downright negatory.
The paradox was illuminating given that Pennetta was nowhere on the favourites’ – or even the dark horses’ – list to win her first major, while Djokovic was an outright favourite. The coolness of disposition towards Djokovic’s performance, both during the match and after his win, once again emphasised the difference of fandom between the Serb and his other rivals, a gap that looked especially widened in comparison to the plethora of Federer’s followers.
This is a gap that’s continued to widen throughout, seemingly unaffected and uninterrupted by Djokovic’s rise and Federer’s plateauing consistency. Though the lack of proactive raucousness for Djokovic is a commonality between him and every other rival of his, the stand point of us versus him is one that systematically heightens each and every time he stands across the net from the Swiss.
From the fans’ perspective though, the rationale for denouncing the 28-year old is quite uncomplicated. Since he’s been a part of the tour, Djokovic has come to reference antithesis for all of Federer’s qualities.
He’s brash where Federer’s classically elegant, a loud-mouth where the Swiss is diplomatic and explosively exuberant to the 17-time grand slam champion’s controlled aggression. But mostly, he’s also determinedly stubborn, a trait that he shares with Federer, who’s not known to give up either.
It’s perhaps this quality that hurts the sentimentality of Federer’s fans as it endears Djokovic’s fans – known fondly as Nolefam ¬– to veer towards him all the more, when the two face-off against each other.
But here again, the two differ. For Djokovic to reach where he is today it’s taken a while whereas Federer’s been there all along. At the start of their respective careers, while Djokovic took it upon himself to portray caricatures of his peers, Federer did a figurative butterfly act to cocoon his rebelliousness and emerge as a well-balanced champion.
Even now Djokovic continues to carry on with his frivolity, which for many is jarring with the expectations of how the world's best player should conduct himself. Thus despite the fact that he leads his rival – in grand slam matches – for his detractors it’s hard to separate his tomfoolery from his good-natured traits and superimpose the latter over the former.
Regardless of such vociferous opposition to his reign of continuity, there’s however no need for Djokovic to need or require a widespread fan following for himself. Because he’s not only doing all the right things, but is also going on about them in the most appropriate way.
His cheeriness in the face of the pro-Federer crowd at the Arthur Ashe was one example of it. No one clamouring for the world no.2 to win that day could dispute Djokovic’s sportsmanship or his sincerity in acknowledging his rival’s effort.
Of all the changes he’s brought in within himself as an athlete and as a competitor, it’s his transformation from being an often impudent opponent into an unceasingly mature rival that substantiates Djokovic’s calibre as a champion.
As regards his continuing to divide public opinion, it would only be a good thing for the sport. For there’s not much that Novak Djokovic sets store by them when he’s playing as he went on to prove on Sunday evening.