Roger Federer's brutal admission: "I didn't respect Djokovic as he deserved"

The Swiss Maestro shared his regret for not having respected the Serbian champion in the way he deserved

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Roger Federer's brutal admission: "I didn't respect Djokovic as he deserved"
© Clive Brunskill / Staff Getty Images Sport

The cold relationship between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic has never been a mystery. A human and professional relationship that has often ended up under the magnifying glass. For the Serbian's outbursts when he was young and for the coldness (and indifference) of the Swiss Maestro towards him. And not having shown respect for Nole is one of Federer's regrets. In emotional words shared with The Telegraph, Roger acknowledged that he had not given Djokovic the respect he deserved and had not helped fans look beyond the tennis rivalry.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic© Michael Dodge / Stringer Getty Images Sport

"I faced him at Munich 2006 for the first time and I left the pitch thinking: Yes, it's ok. Even though there was a bit of hype around him, I wasn't entirely convinced. I think I didn't give Novak the respect he deserved due to his technical shortcomings. It seemed to me that Novak had a really extreme grip when hitting the forehand. His backhand for me wasn't as smooth as it is today. But then he solved these things very well and became a monster as a player. I guess at the beginning he was seen as the killjoy by my fans and Rafa's fans.

Rafa and I were very loved, so when Novak arrived probably a lot of people said: 'Look, we don't need a third guy. We are happy with Roger and Rafa'. My fans, at the beginning, didn't like it very much because they thought: 'Roger does everything more simply'. Then Novak arrived with his strong personality and that incredible desire to win at all costs. I think Novak was also stimulated by this relationship with part of the crowd. His deep concentration may have scared some people. He was misunderstood. I look beyond the media and ultimately consider the man that he is. If I consider Novak beyond tennis, who is he? What are his values? I know he cares deeply about his family," Federer admitted honestly.

Can this honest admission by Federer compensate for the less than idyllic relations between the Swiss and the Serb? Yes, I think, because in the end, Nole earned the respect of the Swiss Maestro and, considering how their relationship was seen in the past years, this is certainly an important step forward, which can also put an end to the social feud between the fans of the two factions.

When Djokovic took his first steps on the ATP Tour, Federer and Nadal dominated tennis. People had, in theory, already chosen a side: the only dilemma seemed to identify the fans of the Swiss and those of the Spaniard. The Serbian has always believed in himself and, without ever hiding, he immediately challenged those who would become his two biggest rivals. This combination of factors - the love that fans had for Federer and Nadal on the one hand and his strong ambition on the other - built the perfect image of the third wheel, who arrived on the Tour to steal the scepter from the crowd's favorites . The Serbian subsequently began to beat them, winning tournament after tournament and breaking records until he collected more Slams than both of his opponents. Another fact is that he contributed to fueling some sporting hatred towards him.

The Big 3
The Big 3© Julian Finney / Staff Getty Images Sport

Djokovic talked about his relationship with the crowd a few months ago, in January 2024, on Nick Kyrgios' Good Trouble podcast.

"I don't know, it really depends on the situation. People think I take advantage of that energy, when someone doesn't like me or I face adversity on and off the pitch. Sometimes I do it because it's the only thing on my mind and I need to find a solution. I have to find a way to win a tennis match and be who I am while staying true to myself. I know not everyone will like me. I know people obviously have their favorite players or maybe they want the underdog to win. Things like that happen. I've been on Tour for so long and I've experienced some great atmospheres in my favor and great atmospheres against me. But I think ultimately you really have to understand the moment, because you're not going to feel the same way every single day," said the Serb.

Later, Nole, during an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, added: "For a lot of my career, I've played in really hostile environments. In a way, I've learned to emerge and do my best in these difficult conditions. People now think that I play better when I have the crowd against me. It happened, but I actually prefer to play in an environment where I get great support. I've broken a lot of rackets in my life, and I'm not proud of it. I'm ashamed of myself when I do this, without a doubt. But at the same time I try to accept myself as an imperfect human being."

Roger Federer