Novak Djokovic just won his 15th grand slam title at the Australian Open easily beating Rafael Nadal. He surpassed Peter Sampras’s record of 14 grand slams. When he hangs up his racquet, he may eclipse Roger Federer’s record of 20 grand slams. Why then is Djokovic not as loved as Federer?
- Djokovic has 32 Masters titles to Federer’s 27. Djokovic is the only man to win all 9 Masters titles.
- Djokovic’s run streaks have been more dominant than Federer’s. He won 4 grand slams in a row though they were not in the same calendar year (2015-2016). With the way he is playing, he could do it again in 2019 if he wins the French Open.
Yet, Djokovic’s endorsement earnings in 2018 was about $22M. Federer made $65MM, almost three times as much as Djokovic. What gives? Why does Djokovic not earn the fans’ and fellow players’ respect as Federer?
1) Federer is older and came into prominence earlier
Federer won his first grand slam in 2003 while Djokovic won his first in 2008. By 2008, Federer had won 12 grand slams and reached God-like status. When Pete Sampras retired with 14 grand slams, it seemed like no one would eclipse that until Federer came on the scene. He took over tennis when there was a vacuum for big stars.
2) Federer-Nadal rivalry
Fans’ fascination with Federer only grew because of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal. Though Federer has a losing record against Nadal, their matches were epic, especially the Wimbledon final in 2008. That not only added to his popularity but elevated the sports. People who were not tennis fans tuned in to see Fedal matches. Though Djokovic had some good matches with the Big Three, the rivalry never reached the heights of Fedal.
3) Djokovic is from Serbia
From a fans and endorsement perspective, a great player from Serbia is not as good as a great player from Switzerland. Fans just can’t relate to Serbia or understand its complicated history. The local market is not big enough and Djokovic’s appeal does not translate well in other countries. On the other hand, being Swiss is cool. The country is known for its neutrality and its beauty.
4) Djokovic did not cultivate a good image in his younger days
In his younger and immature days, Djokovic used to imitate fellow players, including women players. He tended to retire from matches as his fitness was suspect. In addition, he has an occasional tendency to make controversial statements. For example, he questioned why women players were getting equal pay and back pedaled when he found out his opinions were not popular. His leadership of the ATP player council has been criticized by many players. He voted to keep Justin Gimelstob on the ATP Board despite allegations of violence. While Federer has had a couple of hiccups (match fixing by IMG’s Forstmann), he had maintained a clean image throughout his career.
5) Rumors – Oxygen Chambers, Guru Pepe, etc.
Djokovic has talked about using hyperbaric chambers (sort of an oxygen chamber that helps you recover faster after long matches). I am not sure how many other players use this. If they do, they never talk about it much. Some purists of the sport consider it border line cheating.
His relationship with Pepe Imaz, former Spanish tennis player and self-proclaimed spiritual guru has not been good for his image or tennis career. The spiritual journey with Pepe almost killed his “killer instinct” that helped him win grand slams. He had reportedly distanced himself from Pepe late last year.
Federer has played well into his late thirties. No one knows what kind of recovery technique he uses, and he never talks about them. Even when Federer’s pals like Tiger Woods get in trouble, Federer has no trouble explaining away his relationships as just casual acquaintances.
6) The Backhand
There are very few players who use a single handed backhand these days. Federer’s backhand, his weaker side, lets people see the past. A double handed backhand winner doesn’t look as good as a single handed backhand. Just look at the fans’ reaction after a Federer backhand winner!
7) Federer is media savvy
Federer has maintained good relationship with the media. Media reciprocates by giving him favorable coverage. He spends hours, literally hours, talking to every media outlet that wants to interview him. Djokovic doesn’t spend much time on media tours. The fact that Federer can speak four languages means that he can give interviews in four languages.
8) Federer is a family man
Federer has been with Mirka for a long time. The Federer family with 4 four kids is almost at every tournament with him and the media dotes on them. I have never seen anyone doubt Federer’s love for Mirka or the status of their relationship. Djokovic, however, has been rumored to have a difficult relationship with his wife Jelena, who doesn’t travel that much these days (they welcomed a new baby).
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova who has accomplished a fraction of what Serena Williams has on the court, makes more endorsement earnings than Serena. It’s a tough world out there. You would think Djokovic would get more respect.