Novak Djokovic isn’t easy to like, and not just because the other members of the so-called Big Three of Tennis have far more agreeable personalities. He happens to cling to beliefs that are best described as controversial. For instance, he has insisted that “energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, [can] turn the most toxic food, or maybe most polluted water into the most healing water, because water reacts.” He also wears a nanotechnology device on his chest that, according to the manufacturer, converts body heat to light sent through the nervous system, “improving posture, balance and flexibility, [and] boosting athletic performance and focus, reducing stress, anxiety and chronic pain.”
And then there is Djokovic’s insistence on remaining unvaccinated for the coronavirus. The overwhelming preponderance of scientific fact on the benefits of inoculation, plus the untold risks he places others in by remaining unvaccinated, place him on shaky ground. It doesn’t matter if he has expressed willingness to forego the chance to claim more major championships. He’s a global citizen; he doesn’t live in a bubble. He’s being disingenuous when he says he’s not part of the anti-vax movement while refusing to get jabbed. He’s likewise being duplicitous when he claims to acknowledge the science behind vaccination, and yet doesn’t want to touch it with the proverbial 10-foot pole.
In short, Djokovic hasn’t done himself any favors with his cringe-inducing assumptions. Yet, for all the problems he creates off the court, there can be no doubting his success on it. He’s a magician with a racket in hand, and the very stubbornness that has him taking unconventional positions clearly fuels his greatness. Last Sunday, he cemented his hold on the sport with his record 23rd Grand Slam title, breaking a tie with established king-of-red-clay Rafael Nadal. He has claimed the men’s singles trophy on each major stop at least three times, a feat no one else has accomplished. And, his advancing age notwithstanding, he appears destined to keep rewriting history.
Indeed, Djokovic is once again on track to hit the most elusive of all targets: a calendar-year Grand Slam. He already has the Australian and French Opens in hand, and is the overwhelming favorite to take Wimbledon. Should he do so next month, he will be in prime position to complete what he couldn’t in 2021. And considering his uncanny capacity to learn from his missteps, he isn’t likely to wilt in the moment as he did two years ago. Heck, he’s so self-assured that he doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge “win[ning] the most Slams and break[ing] the record for [most number of weeks] at Number One” as his “clear goals.”
So, yes, Djokovic cannot help but make outlandish, if dangerous, claims. At the same time, his mind-over-matter conviction informs his capacity to perform under extreme pressure. It’s certainly how he has managed to stay on top in the face of a significant youth invasion, and it figures to keep him engaged moving forward. Which is why, in the final analysis, his objectives look to be a matter of when, not if. For all the variabilities life has introduced, he deems himself the only constant that matters.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.