Hordes of fans gathered behind Novak Djokovic has he conducted a post-match interview above the viewing area at Melbourne Park on Sunday night. A sea of Serbian flags bobbed up and down as the Australian Open winner’s fans waited for their hero to wrap up his media commitments. Never before had Djokovic received feverish support to this degree. At last, the world number one had the support he deserved, and so dearly craved.
“It was amazing,” Djokovic said of the reception he had received. “I honestly did not expect that. I did not know what was waiting. Many of these fans didn’t have a ticket and chance to watch the match on the stadium, so they stayed on the main square. They waited for me. I’m very grateful for their support. It’s quite incredible. I don’t take it for granted.
“I’ve had that fortune to win this trophy now for six times, but I never experienced such a support after the match. From my point of view from above, I saw a lot of Serbian flags. Many of them live here. Some of them came from our country. It’s great that they came out in big numbers and showed their support on such a big occasion, such a big match for me.”
While the support for Djokovic after the match was at a level few would have expected, the Serb also garnered much of the crowd support during the final itself. Having seen Andy Murray fall short on four occasions, the Melbourne faithful have something of a soft spot for the Scot, but despite this, any chants that were started by Murray’s vocal four-man fan club were soon drowned out by those backing Djokovic.
Just days earlier the world number one had been forced to face questions regarding whether he would ever be a fan favourite, having to endure another Federer fan frenzy during his semi-final encounter with the Swiss. On that night the crowd at Rod Laver Arena had roared with approval at Federer’s every success, they had tried to will the third seed to victory. Djokovic was an obstacle in their fairytale.
A disconnect between Djokovic and tennis fans is nothing new. He’s used to Federer – and even Murray and Rafael Nadal – receiving more support, and he’s at peace with that now.
“Look, you know, I try not to focus on that. I feel like I’m enjoying lots of support around the world,” he said after his victory over Federer.
He added of Federer: “I’ve said before that when I play Roger it’s something that is expected in a way considering his career and his greatness on and off the court, what he has done for the sport.
“He’s loved. He’s appreciated. He’s respected around the world. For me, it’s normal in a way. I’m trying obviously to enjoy my time, to do the best that I can with the tennis racquet, but also focus on the positive energy rather than negative, rather than getting frustrated for that. There’s no reason.”
But on Sunday, it seemed that the tennis community finally began to embrace the fact that they are in the presence of greatness. Djokovic is a supreme athlete, one of the best tennis has seen, and a wonderful person, one who has warranted adulation for some time.
The dominance that Djokovic has achieved since the start of 2015 is something truly remarkable. A 94-6 win-loss record, a 36-5 record against top-10 players, and 13 titles, four of which were clinched at grand slams. Such a record deserves more praise than Djokovic has often received, but the tide may just have begun to turn at Melbourne Park.