REMEMBER WHEN: Novak Djokovic earned ‘Joker’ reputation with impersonations even Rafael Nadal (eventually) loved

Reputations are a strange thing in general, not just in tennis, and the prime example is that of Novak Djokovic.

If you want to know the truth, of all the players we write about on TennisBuzz, by far the most criticised is Novak Djokovic. On social media, the criticism of the Serbian can be both plentiful and personal, and it all goes along the same lines.

Many try to portray him as an almost robotic, humourless and arrogant sulker whose propensity for huffs are his defining feature. They are, in our opinion, wrong – very wrong – but reputations rarely care for reflection.

There can be little doubt that Djokovic is a complex character, but surely such is the hallmark of the champion. Rafael Nadal’s character complexity, for example, is perhaps his most endearing feature as it grounds him in humanity. The same should be true of Djokovic, but for some reason people are less inclined to forgive the Serbian for his flaws.

But we digress. The point is, if you think Novak Djokovic is humourless, you’re wrong. We are after all, talking about the man who eared the nickname of Djoker (Joker).

It all started, publicly at least, in the locker room of the 2007 US Open. Djokovic, then just 20-years-old, was already the number three player in the world and he went on to lose to Roger Federer in his first ever Grand Slam final.

Djokovic’s immense potential was far from a secret at that point, but what did become known during that tournament, to the wider world at least, was his brilliance for impersonations.

A video emerged of the Serb impersonating various greats of the game, including Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, and Andy Roddick.

They were well received, generally, and by the time the US Open had come around again in 2008 the routine had emerged from the privacy of the locker room and onto centre stage on Court Arthur Ashe.

The only person who didn’t really like them were Nadal himself who took himself far more seriously back then than he does now.

“I think this is not a show,” Nadal said when asked about the impressions. “I think this is a sport. Everyone can do what they want. My opinion, the show or the star is the tennis. It’s not the imitation.”

Maria Sharapova wasn’t a fan of it either. “He’s got his own little thing going on,” she said at the 2008 Australian Open.

“So let him do it, I’m sure you guys are going to get bored of it. But it’s fun any time you can get some entertainers out there.”

Still, the demand remained from the public. It almost reached a point where he was being specifically asked to perform them in post-match interviews and trophy presentations.

In 2009, Djokovic got the chance to do his Nadal impression in front of the man himself in Rome. Nadal’s mood was perhaps more conducive to it than usual, given he had just beaten the Serb in straight sets to win the title.

However, even Nadal was charmed, and the fans continued to lap it up from the stands.

In fact, the only person whom it had started to bother was Djokovic himself. He was in tennis to win and be remembered for it, not for anything else.

I always want people to remember me, of course, as a tennis player, as a great tennis player, a champion, whatever,” Djokovic said.

“I don’t want them to remember me as a clown.”

They became rarer, although they didn’t disappear entirely, and nor did the demand for them from the fans.

At the 2014 Australian Open, on-court interviewer Jim Courier relayed a request from a fan for an impersonation of his then-coach Boris Becker. Djokovic obliged.

Since then, it is something that we rarely see on the court. In fact, it has reached the point that many modern fans don’t even know this side of Djokovic at all. They don’t remember Djokovic the Djoker. All they know is Djokovic the winner, Djokovic the great, Djokovic the ruthless, relentless machine.

“I don’t regret anything,” Djokovic said in 2018 of the time in his career when he did the impressions that wound up some of his fellow-players.

“I’ve done things in life that might be considered as mistakes, depending on what angle you’re analysing those actions of certain individuals.

“But deep in my heart I never had any intention of hurting or insulting anybody in my life ever.

“That’s the most important thing. The only purpose of my imitations and joking, if you want to call it that way, is to have fun and bring the smile to the people’s face.”

Eventually, even Maria Sharapova even grew to love it too…

Please follow Tennisbuzz on Twitter and Instagram, and you can like us on Facebook by clicking here.

For more exclusive content from Tennisbuzz, including news, features, trivia, promotions and more, please be sure to sign up for our newsletter below or via our home page.

Why not test your tennis knowledge by tackling one of our fiendish quizzes too?

Other News

‘We got through it!’ – Relentless Emma Raducanu wins historic US Open title

Emma Raducanu has completed her incredible US Open run to beat Leylah Fernandez in the final to win the tournament.The 18-year-old was already the...

‘Step by step’ – Novak Djokovic focused on Alexander Zverev, not calendar Grand Slam

Novak Djokovic is refusing to get ahead of himself after he kept his calendar Grand Slam hopes alive by beating Matteo Berrettini at the...

‘There are many similarities’ between Emma Raducanu and Novak Djokovic, says analyst

Teenage ace Emma Raducanu has 'many similarities' to world number one Novak Djokovic, says Mats Wilander.Raducanu will contest her first ever Grand Slam semi-final...

‘The knee is much better now’ – Juan Martin del Potro eying return to tennis

Juan Martin Del Potro says he will be ready to resume his tennis career at the start of next season 'if everything goes well.'Del...

COMMENT: Is 2021 the year Novak Djokovic left Roger Federer behind?

He has been stealing a march on his long-time rival since 2011, but 2021 is perhaps the year when Novak Djokovic has hurt Roger...

Goran Ivanisevic: ‘Novak Djokovic doesn’t crack under pressure, he says ‘bring it on”

Coach Goran Ivanisevic says Novak Djokovic is embracing the pressure of impending history, not cracking beneath it.Djokovic beat Jenson Brooksby in the fourth round...

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don't miss a thing from Tennisbuzz - get all the latest tennis news, exclusive content and competitions, and tennis trivia teasers all delivered to your inbox.

Related articles

24 Comments

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here