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OPINION: Novak Djokovic returns to the All England club as the defending champion, the number one player in the world, the man with three Wimbledon titles in the past five years – AND YET. What a horrible pair of words they are for the Serb. And yet. There’s almost a full-on, Eastern European ‘nyet’ in there. No, Djokovic is not beloved.
There has always been something about Djokovic that doesn’t quite stack up against Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. We know it is not Djokovic’s tennis game. That does stack up, particularly against Nadal. Djokovic annihilated the Spaniard in the Australian Open final at the start of the year.
No, it’s a matter of style. Everything about the Serb is just a bit off. It starts with the haircut. It’s like an ‘Action Man’ doll cut. It’s military. Has a hair moved in the past 10 years? The cut must make sense for tennis. No floppy hair flicking drops of sweat into your eyes. But it’s just not Borg or McEnroe or Gerulaitis or Federer or Nadal. It’s all just a bit more Ivan Lendl.
Then there’s the clothes. Now I know that at times Federer can be ridiculous. The RF logo and the blazers and the gold piping. One day the Swiss will arrive with a butler carrying his poodle onto court. But at least there’s something going on, however excruciating, however kitsch.
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But with Djokovic you sometimes think that ‘Nole’ is short for Nostyle. He has those ironed creases in his clothes that never move. And they always look brand new. While Nadal is cascading sweat down his muscleman vests, Djokovic forever looks like a boy heading off for his first day at school.
And however unfair this may be, we don’t like our heroes to look like they have just come out of the packet. We want George Best laying a swagger of charm and mayhem across the world. We want Bjorn Borg rocking up to nightclubs and then playing tennis from the gods on the next morning. We want to live the dream.
But perhaps what defines Djokovic as much as anything is the way he plays tennis. Whe
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