Novak Djokovic's 2021 was nothing short of exceptional, as the Serbian came close to a legendary feat. After winning the first three Slams of the season, the number 1 in the world also went on the hunt for the title at the US Open.
Should he triumph in the Big Apple, the 34-year-old from Belgrade would become the second man in the Open Era after Rod Laver to win all four majors in the same year. In addition, he would have overtaken eternal rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam standings.
One step away from the finish and under the eyes of Laver himself, Nole froze and collapsed at Arthur Ashe Stadium. An excellent Daniil Medvedev took advantage of Djokovic's subdued version to showcase his first Grand Slam (in addition to taking revenge in the Australian Open final).
It took a painful defeat, perhaps the h*ttest of his career, to bring Novak closer to fans around the world. The 20-time Grand Slam champion received an emotional standing ovation from the New York crowd and let himself go to tears during the last change of pitch.
In an exclusive interview with the 'Tennis365' portal, New York Times correspondent Christopher Clarey analyzed Djokovic’s evolution.
Clarey opens up on Novak Djokovic
“People who follow Novak Djokovic perceive him as being hard done by and misunderstood, misinterpreted and under-appreciated,” he continues.
“It makes you fact-check all your tweets and articles when you do an article on Djokovic and you know you are going to get a strong reaction from his fans. As for Novak, he has spoken about his frustration earlier on in his career about the crowds not being with him, but I think those battle lines are now set.
I guess that is good as it shows how strong a following these three great champions have created. It is one of the reasons why tennis has been so successful in this era and why it has made for compelling viewing. They have all had their own people pulling for them and the rivalries have created some division among the public as well.
In the long run, it will really help him in terms of his legacy that he has been able to go up against them and beat them. His story and the crazy odds he has had to overcome to become who he is might be under-appreciated. Yet he has been his own worst enemy at times with some of the things he has done and the choices he has made, like the situation hitting the lines person at the US Open last year.
That kind of thing has not happened to Roger or Rafa, but it is part of Novak’s story. In some ways, his story reminds me of Ivan Lendl, who came along after Bjorn Borg and (John) McEnroe. Lendl was a great player, but he wasn’t universally popular.
Novak is a much more successful career and deserves to be recognised as one of the game’s all-time greats and maybe even the greatest”.