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MAILBAG: Is Novak Djokovic 'treated badly by spectators and press'?

Is Novak Djokovic 'treated badly by tennis spectators and media' as John Lloyd has suggested? That is the subject of this week's Mailbag.
Novak Djokovic in a press conference

Monday Mailbag is the feature where you, the reader, sets the agenda for discussion on TennisBuzz. This week, we examine John Lloyd's claims about Novak Djokovic.

Dear TennisBuzz,

John Lloyd claimed last week that Novak Djokovic is treated poorly by the mainstream media and that will likely remain the case until he stops playing.

We then saw yet more questions directed to him from the press about vaccinations in what looked like an attempt to create more needlessly unkind and damaging headlines.

Do you agree with Lloyd and why do you think such a sporting great does not get the respect he deserves?

Theresa McKenzie

Send us your thoughts and questions for use in this feature by emailing mailbag@tennisbuzz.net

Editor’s reply: It’s probably best to start with reviewing what is was that John Lloyd actually said here, for those who may have missed it.

“It really is [a bizarre story that Djokovic does not get any credit],” Lloyd said, as quoted by Tennishead among others.

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“We talk about this era and it is almost for Novak as if he is fortunate to be in this era because he has been great in so many ways, but he is unfortunate that he is in this era with Rafa and Roger and you put Andy [Murray] obviously below that.

“They are great players, but they have a popularity with the fans and with the press that he doesn’t, and I think he has been treated pretty badly, certainly by spectators and certainly by the press.

“He is one of these players – as there are some stars and I will throw in Jimmy Connors right away – they are treated a lot better after they come back. When they come back either as a broadcaster or they come back at 36 or 37 and they walk into the stadiums and people go crazy about them.

“It is almost like ‘I wasn’t a big fan of you some much then, but now I appreciate the fact that you were amazing back then’ and then all the love comes out.

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“I have a feeling with Novak it will be a little that way and the love will come out probably after he has finished or when people feel like it is his last year then everybody will be going crazy for him. That is just the nature of the beast.”

Novak Djokovic Centre Court Wimbledon

I think we have made our views on this quite clear a few times in the past, but I’m happy to reiterate. Novak Djokovic does not get a fair ride from far too much of the tennis and sporting media.

He is not short on love and popularity, though. To suggest otherwise would be to play into the perception that the media often seem keen to create. Novak Djokovic has literally millions upon millions of fans and they are fiercely loyal. He certainly has no problem with popularity, despite what you might read.

The respect issue is another matter entirely, though. There is definitely a bit of an imbalance there between what Djokovic has achieved and how he is regarded by the media.

Sadly, we can’t shine any light on that. I would hope that we have been fair to Djokovic in our reporting and coverage, and that is all that we can control. Why others haven’t been is a question for them.

It’s important to try not to speculate and criticise anyone else based on assumptions we make on their behalf, but it makes you wonder. If, for example, we were heading into Wimbledon with Rafael Nadal set to be stripped of 2,000 ranking points through no fault of his own and Novak Djokovic had just won a Grand Slam whilst receiving injections into an injured foot, would the coverage have been the same as we have seen? Almost certainly not.

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Look, for instance, at the 2021 Australian Open when Novak Djokovic won a Slam with a torn abdominal muscle. There was no talk in the press of ‘miracles’ then, as there was with Rafael Nadal after Roland Garros. There was talk of faking.

And we don’t make that point as one against Rafael Nadal. I don’t think anyone really has a problem with the media coverage that Nadal receives. He is a veritable all-time great, a true legend of the sport we all love, and he deserves every ounce of respect he now receives. Problems only arise when, when juxtaposed with the coverage Novak Djokovic receives, such a great and obvious double standard is exposed.

So, to answer the question: Yes, we absolutely would agree with John Lloyd that Novak Djokovic is treated badly by the tennis media as a whole. He is not the bad guy they want him to be, and the narrative of having a bad guy at all only really favours those in the media.

It’s worth remembering that, and I say this as someone who runs a tennis news and features website, we could get double the traffic on an article that slags Djokovic off than we could on one that is complimentary of him. The reason for that, simply, is because fans of other hugely popular top players, players whose fans Djokovic annoys by beating them, would flock to it in addition to Djokovic's own fans. Double the traffic means double the advertising income and double the visibility and so on. For journalists, those things probably mean double the job security too. Perhaps that plays a part. Perhaps even a big one.

That might just be a bit of a conspiracy theory on our part, and we don't want to be unkind to anyone. We are just trying to answer a question really and analyse it as best we can. Ultimately, though, we just hope that Djokovic eventually gets the respect he deserves from the media, but we’d prefer it if he didn’t have to wait until he was retired to get it.

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