Novak Djokovic, the Enigma

By Owais Majid

Almost a month after Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia was confirmed once and for all, he has finally broken his silence on everything surrounding the matter in an interview with the BBC which aired on Monday night.

The interview itself, which lasted around 30 minutes, was a fascinating watch. Amol Rajan grilled Djokovic on everything from his stance on being vaccinated, to what the future holds, to everything that led up to Djokovic’s deportation.

It was as confusing and frustrating as it was insightful. On countless occasions, Djokovic opened his answer with the words “I understand and respect” or variations of that sentiment. Despite this though, Djokovic didn’t particularly demonstrate that he truly understood the ramifications of everything that had happened as a result of his beliefs.

At one point, Djokovic said “I understand the consequences of my actions” before later contradicting this by taking no responsibility, at least outwardly, for the antivax protests that ensued following his visa being declined. Somebody who was so keen to stress how self aware he is showed very little in the way of it here, and it was quite revealing about Djokovic’s mindset and how unwilling he is to change it in any way, shape, or form.

Throughout the interview, one of the recurring themes was that of him insisting that “I have always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.” This was yet another instance of Djokovic’s apparent ignorance. The larger issue here isn’t that of him simply having something injected into his body. His claims about being reluctant to take something that may or may not affect his health, which he holds of paramount importance, aren’t without their justifications. But Djokovic failed to acknowledge the fact that his actions have been endangering other people besides him. I found this to be at best a bit tone deaf and at worst pretty entitled and selfish. Surely someone as intelligent as Djokovic has been on so many occasions should be able to understand something which is seemingly so obvious. His inability or refusal to do so is genuinely baffling to me, and I’m sure to many others who were listening to his every word with bated breath. 

Here lies the enigma with Djokovic. This same unfaltering belief in his own, well, beliefs that maddens us so much has been one of the biggest reasons for the wealth of success and accolades that he has amassed. Djokovic’s methods up until this point, regardless of how unconventional they seem to us, have been so successful that it’s little wonder that he seems reluctant to move away from them. The same stubbornness that he’s displaying here is the reason why he has so often fought back from situations that seemed terminal.

Be it an improbable comeback from two sets down in a grand slam, or finding a way to rediscover his best tennis after a year and a half in the abyss or conquering the many Everests he has, Djokovic has pulled off numerous superhuman feats. One commonality with all of these that whenever they are talked about, we always hail Djokovic’s mentality as being arguably the biggest factor.

All elite athletes have to have a certain element of single-mindedness about them. They wouldn’t be as successful as they are if they didn’t possess this trait in some capacity. Djokovic embodies this phenomenon possibly more than any sportsperson has ever done both on and off the court. As such, even if he might make us want to tear our hair out at some of his actions and comments, it isn’t particularly surprising. 

There’s also another factor which I believe gets massively overlooked when it comes to understanding the many nuances of Novak Djokovic’s character. Tennis is a sport where the vast majority of players who are at all successful come from a fairly wealthy background. On the outside, it is viewed as a sport that caters only for the elite. In Djokovic, we have arguably the greatest male player of all time coming from an extremely troubled background.

As Djokovic alluded to in the interview, there were days where simply being able to come by any form of nutrition was difficult. When you’re constantly on the move, with no semblance of normality in your everyday life, it’s unlikely if not impossible that you’re going to have the same attitude and psyche as those who have had a far more conventional upbringing. Djokovic’s character is bound to be impacted. As incredibly frustrating his fans and tennis fans as a whole find his stubbornness, there has to be an element of acceptance that Novak Djokovic just isn’t what we perceive as “normal.”

Speaking about his younger years, Djokovic said “I became self reliant from very early on and I think that helped me to establish my own character from very early on and just hold my ground.” 

For the majority of us, we’ve had an adult to shape and refine our beliefs, to teach us certain values one simply cannot self teach. The fact that Djokovic lacked this to some extent will undoubtedly have had a major impact on the person he is now. It is particularly apt that he used the term “hold my ground,” as that has been the crux of what his career and this interview has been about. Amidst everything telling him otherwise, Djokovic has persisted and more often than not prevailed. 

If this formula that he has established for himself has brought him so much success, it’s kind of understandable, if still extremely naive, as to why he holds the beliefs that he does.

Towards the end of the interview, Rajan asked Djokovic the question many of us have been wanting to ask him for so long. Upon Djokovic claiming that he would sacrifice the opportunity to become the greatest of all time in order to uphold his values, Rajan simply asked “why Novak, why?”

Djokovic’s reply reaffirmed what he had been saying throughout the interview. “Because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title. Or anything else.” 

So in spite of everything Djokovic said about remaining open minded, it’s pretty clear that it’ll take some drastic change to sway him from his current beliefs.

I think I can speak for the majority when I say it would be a great shame if Djokovic were to relinquish the opportunity he has to etch his name even further into tennis history. Whether you love him or hate him or you stand somewhere in between, tennis is a far greater spectacle when Novak Djokovic is a part of it, and not when he is departing the scene of the spectacle amidst controversy. 

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