Novak Djokovic won from adversity in a way that only champions can at Roland Garros this week, so why is he not getting the same credit for it that Roger Federer does?
At the start of this year, Roger Federer, injured and visibly struggling in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, mustered all his ingenuity and fight and found a way to win from behind.
This week, Novak Djokovic, injured and visibly struggling in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, mustered all his ingenuity and fight and found a way to win from behind.
Two great and established champions, two icons of the same sport, two all-time greats displaying the same level of both skill and character excellence that has underpinned their achievements.
Of course, you may not have noticed, because while one was described as performing ‘a miracle,’ the other has been accused of faking injury.
“He didn’t surprise me [that he asked for a physio],” Carreno Busta told the press of Djokovic after his French Open quarterfinal defeat from a set up to the world number one.
It didn't surprise us either, but only because Djokovic was very clearly injured. Anyone who has watched him even occasionally could see he wasn't moving the way he usually does.
“It’s a good thing," Carreno Busta continued. "It’s a sign that he is losing and that I was playing well, because he always does that.
“It’s something that he has been doing for years. When he is down, he asks for the trainer.”
Of course, it’s easy to understand Carreno Busta’s disappointment. He had a chance against a struggling Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam quarterfinal and he wasn’t good enough to take it.
But there are other ways of dealing with it, surely? Perhaps look at like Djokovic was just too good? That’s what Roger Federer gets. Every time.
And deservedly so, by the way. The intent here is not to take anything away from Federer. He is earned every bit of admiration he receives, but the point is that he does receive it, usually unconditionally. Djokovic, surely, has earned the same?
Roger Federer’s comeback against Tennys Sandgren at the 2020 Australian Open was, in fairness, much more dramatic. That, though, was mainly down to his situation being a lot more perilous.
In Melbourne, Federer faced and saved seven match points. Would Djokovic have received the same benefit of the doubt on that by the media, by the way? Had he repeated that feat in Paris this week, would it have been written that he saved them, or that Carreno Busta wasted them? It’s a relevant question.
Tennis is going through a great era and sometimes we forget it. To have one player at the level of Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer is special. To have three is privilege to an unprecedented degree.
When three such talented players are fighting it out for not only trophies but tennis history, it is natural that loyalties will form and then oppose each other. Arguably, in terms of the fanbase, tennis is more partisan than it has ever been.
And from a fan point of view, that is fine. In fact, it enhances the product on offer in a similar way that football rivalries do.
However, you will never convince me that it is the role of people within tennis and the tennis media to also picks sides.
It cannot be a case that what Federer did in Melbourne is recorded as a ‘a miracle’ yet when Djokovic achieves a similar feat the very integrity of it is questioned.
In terms of completed matches, Carreno Busta has played Djokovic five times now, and in those five matches combined he has not won enough sets to win a Grand Slam match against him.
He took a set from him at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2017 – which was Djokovic’s weakest season when he was battling elbow injury – and another now at Roland Garros when the Serb was visibly struggling with injury.
That’s it. What among that record qualifies him to comment cogently on what Novak Djokovic does or does not do when ‘he is down’ is something of a mystery.
Voltaire once commented: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” You really can’t help but feel that tennis needs to stop picking and choosing whose excellence to appreciate.
Tennis, or anything else for that matter, is not inherently excellent. Players like Novak Djokovic make it so, and the reality is that excellence may never get any greater than Novak Djokovic.
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