Novak Djokovic cruised into the 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over veteran Tommy Haas. The World No. 1 was both dominating and opportunistic, which continues to be his usual pattern for success.
The Serbian has been the most consistent star at an unpredictable Wimbledon. Even as other big stars have fallen, Djokovic and his fans have to wonder why his greatness has not garnered more media attention.
Why is Djokovic so undervalued?
Djokovic has won all four matches in straight sets and captured nearly two-thirds of games played, 75-40. He has hardly been challenged, so there is no room for drama or notable escapes. He is a well-oiled machine doing enough to dominate but not break records.
Fans and media expected Djokovic to cruise through his first few matches, so in their eyes he is merely holding serve until the finals. He is the smart student who already knows the answers to the exam while everyone else is struggling to pass.
Many fans want to see a tougher test.
Wimbledon tennis once featured serve-and-volley champions like John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg. They looked to exploit the court’s geometry with approach shots, net skills and creative guile. The past decade has seen Roger Federer win seven titles with his flashy array of shots, spins and imagination.
Djokovic is more the prototypical baseline basher in 2013.
He looks to overpower his opponents and paint the sidelines. He rarely changes this formula against different opponents, because he keeps winning. It’s straight vanilla without the strawberries.
Wimbledon wants to be different, but Djokovic successfully hammers away with little variation from how he attacks at the Australian or French Opens. Unlike former champion Ivan Lendl, Djokovic has shown that he can pound away from the baseline and win this trophy on grass.
He is not like the robotic Lendl or bland Pete Sampras. Young Djokovic was once criticized for slamming his rackets and his toughness was questioned.
Now he is the ultimate competitor, featuring a blend of Rafael Nadal’s mental strength and Lleyton Hewitt’s feistiness. His greatness hardly allows others to muster up their own grit and resolve because he is still better.
If feistiness is a genetic quality of sporting personality, Djokovic can hardly be faulted for how he has channeled this into winning. Tennis could use more of this from other potential stars.
All players celebrate big points. Maybe he hits a spectacular winner or saves a break point. He will react in today’s etiquette of tennis with a fist pump or shout. The problem for most tennis fans is that Djokovic gets to do this the most.
There are still fans who criticize him for ripping off his shirt after epic victories over Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka at the past two Australian Open tournaments. The lesson is that any winner will quickly find naysayers who would poke and prod at a supermodel’s skin blemish if she defeated their favorite player.
Djokovic is not seeking his first Wimbledon title or creating a breakthrough performance like young Jerzy Janowicz.
He is not David Ferrer, the sentimental journeyman in search of one Grand Slam title.
He is not Federer, an aging star, stirring up nostalgia and warm memories.
He is not Nadal and his endless battles with injuries and comebacks.
He is not Murray with an historical mandate to plant the title on home soil.
Djokovic is merely the undisputed No. 1 player in the world, seeking a seventh Grand Slam title. There’s no Calendar Slam, unusual milestone or Tiger Woods scandal.
It’s less glamorous for most fans to watch the best in his business methodically collect another piece of hardware to put on the mantle.
Understandably, Djokovic is the obstacle to every other player’s success—and to their fans. Nadal fans in particular saw the Spaniard’s global dynasty halted by Djokovic in 2011. He is also the antagonist to title shots by Federer and Murray.
Success breeds envy. Too much envy becomes contempt. Most tennis fans view Djokovic as a rival competitor. This is all a part of sports. There just are not too many Federer or Nadal fans that stay up at night hoping their hero will find a way to defeat Ryan Harrison.
How would it feel to be NBA superstar LeBron James? He is the best basketball player in the world, perhaps ever, yet is the constant source of vitriol. Sports fans look for his failure more often than celebrate his successes.
In part, Djokovic is playing this villainous role, however unfair. Social media is rapid and overly judgmental.
In addition, consistency is often unrecognized or ignored. There are times Djokovic is tennis' version of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
Greatness deserves appreciation. The least fans can do is applaud and marvel at one of the greatest players in history.