OPINION: Why fans need to show Novak Djokovic the respect he deserves

Novak Djokovic is the greatest tennis player Melbourne Park has ever witnessed. Period.

The Serbian’s come-from-behind five-set win against Dominic Thiem that extended his record Australian Open haul to eight titles, is proof enough of this.

‘MADE YOURSELF FAMOUS’: Djokovic slammed over umpire 'disgrace'

‘MORE IMPORTANT THINGS’: Thiem's incredible runner-up speech

No other player - man or woman - can match Djokovic's grand slam singles trophy haul in the open era in Australia.

Serena Williams comes close having claimed the Australian Open title a staggering seven times, but Djokovic's latest triumph puts him in a category of his own.

Yet despite being the most successful champion to grace our shores, Djokovic still doesn't command the same respect that many of his peers are afforded.

Seen here, Novak Djokovic hoists the Australian Open trophy aloft.
Novak Djokovic extended his Australian Open record with an eighth title on Sunday night. Pic: Getty

This was once again evidenced in Sunday night's final, where Djokovic became frustrated with the pro-Thiem crowd.

The Serbian star snapped at one point early in the decider, telling fans to be quiet as they jeered while he tried to serve.

Many viewers labelled the crowd behaviour as highly disrespectful.

On several occasions, Channel Nine callers Jim Courier and Todd Woodbridge commented on the overwhelming level of support for the underdog, as opposed to Djokovic.

On the surface the explanation for this fact could have been just that; Australians love an underdog so they were cheering for Thiem to clinch his first grand slam singles title.

The fact that this scenario never seems to play out when Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal are involved, is a curious anomaly.

Djokovic famously confessed after his epic 2019 Wimbledon triumph over Federer that he told himself the crowd were cheering for him when 'Roger' could be heard echoing across the centre court stadium.

Like most players, Novak Djokovic is rarely the crowd favourite when he plays Roger Federer.
Novak Djokovic's popularity around the world pales in comparison to Roger Federer. Pic: Getty

Federer is universally loved, this much has been clear for some time now but for Thiem to experience a level of support similar to that in the Australian Open final against Djokovic, is baffling.

Yes, Australians love an underdog but we also love and respect true champions of sport - a title no one can deny of Djokovic.

When the dust settles on the 32-year-old's career, he may well end up as statistically the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen.

With five grand slam singles titles out of the last nine major tournaments, it would take a brave person to bet against him eclipsing Federer's record haul of 20 major titles.

What more does Djokovic need to do?

It begs the question as to why Djokovic isn't more loved.

Why do fans around the world love Federer and Nadal so much, while the other member of the Big Three struggles to attract the same support?

A glimpse at the three men sows they are actually very similar in a lot of ways.

Like his two biggest rivals, Djokovic is an incredibly hard-working and talented player, a family man and a well-spoken professional, both on and off the court.

Anyone who's seen his impersonations, particularly the one he used to do of Maria Sharapova, knows what a funny guy he can be as well.

The Serbian is charismatic, passionate, respectful and possesses quite possibly the greatest court coverage of any player in the history of tennis.

Then there's the many charitable causes that the Serb dedicates his time and considerable money towards.

In 2007, he and wife Jelena launched the Novak Djokovic Foundation - a charity focusing on preschool education in his native Serbia.

Since its founding, dozens of kindergartens have been opened and hundreds of teachers have been trained.

Growing up in the war-torn former Yugoslavia, Djokovic understands and respects the hardships and sacrifices that many families make for their children.

His charity organisation is one of many ways the Serbian gives back to the community and uses his platform of fame and success to make a difference.

Why none of these commendable traits translates into greater respect from fans in a mystery.

Perhaps, the Serb is a victim of his own ridiculously high standards - seen as something of a robot because of how rarely he makes mistakes on a tennis court.

Djokovic shows what great champions are made of

Sunday night's final showed that he is fallible, however, as Thiem demonstrated in two exceptional sets.

It also showed that Djokovic matches can be the explosive and at times fiery affairs that fans love to see, much like watching any Nick Kyrgios match.

Yes, Djokovic was wrong to blow up at the chair umpire after being handed a time violation on his serve during a crucial game in the second set.

Sure, the Serb should never have touched the official, no matter how soft and patronising the contact may have been.

Tennis has witnessed far worse examples of bad behaviour than what the second seed displayed and the context and timing of the penalty goes a long way to understanding why he did what he did.

What separates Djokovic from so many other players though, is how he was able to respond to an incident that threatened to derail his final.

Djokovic lost six games in a row immediately after the controversial incident, eventually finding himself two sets to one down in the contest.

The writing would have be on the wall for most players but Djokovic is not like most players.

Novak Djokovic was very unhappy with the chair umpire's time violation on his serve. Pic: Getty
Novak Djokovic was very unhappy with the chair umpire's time violation on his serve. Pic: Getty

Where others would have crumbled, the champion drew every ounce of his mental resolve to fight off the controversy and a medical timeout to seal one of the greatest comebacks in Australian Open history.

In doing so, Djokovic became the first man in the 52-year open era to win grand slam titles in three different decades, and just the second in history after Ken Rosewall snared majors in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

The Serbian's 17th career major also saw him reclaim his World No.1 status.

Perhaps Djokovic's ever-expanding list of achievements will see Australian Open fans show him the respect he deserves when the 32-year-old returns to defend his title in 2021.

It would represent a great travesty if this were not the case.