If you read only the sensationalist headlines - Novak was this week granted a vaccine exemption to play in the Australian Open. Given the Aussie distaste for tall poppies, many of us will sense this preferential treatment is unfair, and unwarranted. The hate on social media is off the charts. I expect the nine times Australian Open champion Novak to be booed in his first game.
His tennis and public persona are also not winsome. Federer is a class act. Nadal has grit and passion that makes him likeable. But Djokovic can be machine-like, awkward, and stand-offish.
Was his exemption unfair? Apparently, the application for medical exemption entrance is anonymous, so Novak did not receive preferential treatment.
Beyond that, Novak has a lot going for him. He is gracious in defeat and victory. He fought for prize money to be allocated more evenly – which would mean he got less. He reached out to Naomi Osaka, as he does for others, during their dark times.
Away from tennis, he raises money for poor children to attend school in his homeland in Serbia. He is the patron of a foundation.
Novak is also a public, practising (Orthodox) Christian. He can be seen praying on court, and often wears a cross. He talks openly about his beliefs and his prayers. In last year’s Australian Open he left the tennis precinct to find a Serbian Orthodox Church so he might pray in the Orthodox New Year.
Like him, or loathe him – Novak is an individual whose faith grounds him as a person and player, allows him to dig deeper than most when his back is against the wall, and sets him apart from the polished brand managed personas on the professional tour.
Rev David Rietveld