French Open: Novak Djokovic Can Escape Shadow of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJune 8, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 08:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates victory in his men's singles semi final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland during day 13 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 8, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic’s straight sets win to defeat Roger Federer at the 2012 French Open semifinal may receive a round of applause from many tennis fans, but don’t expect it to be a resounding cheer.

Djokovic is now set to take on Rafael Nadal at the French Open final for the greatest challenge of his career with one more win as the difference between greatness and immortality.

At stake, winning the Novak Slam, which is to be the first player since Rod Laver to hold all four titles at once. Just realize that there are more than Nadal fans who hope Djokovic’s run at history will be halted.

Why would a global audience not get behind Djokovic to make history? Where is the love?


Atlas Shrugged

Dear Novak,

You hold many burdens as the No. 1 player in the world. Yes, there are your loyal supporters who breathe the air of your success, but there are the antagonists who pray you will not put your hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Why are they so divided? You deserve more love, you really do.

It’s true your dominance has been questioned like no other player, even though you have been brilliant at best and resourceful at worst. You have escaped more often than Harry Houdini, but there are always the critics.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 08:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia looks on prior to his men's singles semi final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland during day 13 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 8, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Get
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Do they not realize winning the true Grand Slam is the most coveted feat in all of tennis history? Or are they worried you will soon tower over the other titans of tennis?

Yes, Novak, there are those who minimize your brilliant tennis and hope you fail. It’s unfair. It really is.

If you were Roger Federer the sporting universe world would reach out to help support your weighty burden.

You hold the world on your shoulders, but all you can do is smile and shrug. All you can do is keep winning.


Game of Shadows

Dear Novak,

Even should you defeat the mighty Nadal in Sunday’s final, there will be detractors: “Nice job Novak, but you don’t have six French Open trophies or 16 Grand Slam titles".

If you lose on Sunday, the hourglass will drop more sand as the pressure of winning the French Open continues to mount in upcoming years, much as it did to Federer until 2009. It’s hard to be a superstar when only a win will ease the stings of criticism or hold back the pains of misery. Is there no consolation?

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 08:  Roger Federer of Switzerland looks dejected in his men's singles semi final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day 13 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 8, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Get
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It’s not your fault, but you had to arrive after Federer’s heroic peak. Understand that it is less of a personal slight to you personally. It’s just that Federer has created a global following who are the defenders of his legacy.

They might not mind if you have moderate success and continue to thwart Nadal's career achievements, but it might be offensive if YOU hold up the Holy Grail of Grand Slam tennis. After all, neither Federer nor Nadal were able to complete this quest.

You have peaked beneath the shadows of titanic legends. Is there no escape?


Hercules and Removing the Burden

Dear Novak,

Keep your head up high. You continue to win greater respect with each added block to the foundation of your legacy. This takes time, and only the passage of years will melt away animosity and add collective approval. Be patient. Soon more will help support you in your time of need.

Do not think of measuring up to Federer’s past, but go forth to carve out your own legacy. Consider the following examples:

John McEnroe was not Bjorn Borg, but found his own niche by winning the U.S. Open. And then he did defeat Borg at Wimbledon. His greatness was assured.

Andre Agassi was not Pete Sampras but he was the one who won the 1999 French Open and the career Grand Slam. Nobody can deny him respect.

Rafael Nadal is a long way off from 16 Grand Slam titles and has usually had to overcome popular support when facing Federer. However, his clay legacy is engraved at Roland Garros. He twice won the French-Wimbledon double in a single year, and he has had the upper hand against Federer in their rivalry. He does not need to take a back seat to anyone.

You are close, Novak, to achieving your own special place in history. A single win on Sunday would put you at a level with them, not the same but different.

And if you lose? At some point you will not win a Grand Slam, which is true of any player who has won. Setbacks will occur, rivals will win their day and you will need to keep evolving.

So, while your Grand Slam goals are high and bright like the sun, you cannot stare at its glory lest you become blinded from your labors.

Keep working on the details of your unique talents. Have good practices. Sharpen your serve. Improve your retaliation to that irritating underspin. Keep working on your vollies. Set small goals to help you win your great victories.

There is plenty of room for more legends, and there are many who stand by clapping as you climb the podium to stand next to the greatest legends in tennis history.

One day your burden will be lightened and you won’t need to shrug. You can smile with relief.