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Novak Djokovic: “I’m Not A Robot, And I Will Keep Expressing My Views”

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Firstly, Nole highlighted his awareness of the status he enjoys:

“I am in a very privileged position, because my success in a global sport allows my thoughts to travel long distances – I have a powerful megaphone. Not many athletes are in this position.” Then, he was asked if he had any explanations for his “non-conventional” stance on a few themes, to which he replied: “It’s very common in society. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to deal with all kinds of controversial subjects.

Novak Djokovic display

People always refer to the responsibility I have, and to the fact that every bit of information I share has a resounding impact in terms of how far it reaches and of how many people are exposed to it. I’m not saying I’m blameless in this regard. Sometimes I say some things and when I think about them afterwards I realise that I shouldn’t have phrased them as I did.

I’m human, and I have no problems to admit when I’m wrong. However, I’m not a robot, and I can’t spend my life in a bubble or a shell, that’s just not who I am. I don’t feel superior to other people, and I don’t criticise those who refrain from speaking up on social issues, but I’m a person who wants to highlight certain things, because I exert an influence on society and I want to be able to share things that through my experience might be useful to some people.

Now, the way people react to it and appropriate that information isn’t something I can influence very much. Some groups of people, you might call them the elites, you might call them the establishment, they want some things to stay a certain way, and they want everybody to be silent and just listen to what they say. Put simply, this is something I deem unfair and undemocratic.

If I think that something is fair and in accordance with God’s commandments and with the values and principles of life, then I must support it. I support the struggle for equality, respect, fair play, decency… these are the values I support and that I’m in harmony with.”

One of the accusations made to Djokovic is that he’s been giving his opinion on matters he’s not an expert on. This is his reply:

“I don’t think someone should be prevented from expressing his opinion on something just because he isn’t an expert about it. I think this is clear from what I’ve been saying for the last 15 years. I’ll make an example to show how I apply this concept to myself: people come to me and tell me stuff about tennis, and I have used what they told me even if their tennis proficiency was inferior to mine.

It’s the truth, I listen to U14 and U16 coaches, and I search for different opinions on the Internet, in person or through friends, because I believe that if you’re open-minded, then you can always learn something.

You should always ask yourself, ‘Could I apply any of this to my game?’, instead of having an attitude of superiority such as, ‘who are you to talk to me about tennis?’ I could have a similar attitude, I know many people who do, not just in tennis, but in life in general, but in that way you prevent your own growth and you might miss some signals that God sent you from above through the person who’s in front of you, a person that might not have the same level of competence as you, but who is sharing some of his or her observations with you. When you look at it from this perspective, then it becomes interesting when someone talks about something, as long as he or she does it respectfully. If this is missing, then it’s not right.”

Djokovic also debunked the myth according to which he didn’t eat anything before last year’s final at Wimbledon:

“It’s not like I didn’t eat. This a very interesting point to clarify. I’d been discussing autophagy [Editor’s Note: a physiological phenomenon in which the body renews itself by cleaning out damaged cells] and fasting. When people think about fasting, they think that it means to eat nothing, but that’s not true, it just means to have extended time-lapses between meals. When you eat, you ingest liquids and nutrients that don’t burden your digestive system and that don’t deprive you of the energy you need for training and physical activity.

I’m not used to eating much before matches. I don’t have four eggs with bacon for breakfast like I know some athletes do. Since the Wimbledon final was scheduled for 2pm, I only had liquids and light foods, such as boiled veggies with no condiments. To muster my strength, I had fruit and oatmeal, I believe.

Sure, I drink a lot of fluids, I hydrate with vitamin supplements and sports drinks which provide me the necessary energy amount. This is true for me, though. I know many athletes who like to eat and feel full, but tennis is different from any other sport in terms of physical requirements and needs – that final lasted for four and a half to five hours. During matches, I mostly eat dates, and sometimes a small banana.

I drink water and energy drinks. I strongly believe in the mental aspect of the game and in managing emotions. When you’re afraid, your stomach cramps and you can’t eat anything. Excitement, fear, nerves, motivations, and everything you feel going into a Wimbledon final, they make your stomach cramp. You just don’t think about eating. You are all in, and you know that you’ll have the energy because everything you have done up to that point will allow you to be at your best.”

Another thorny subject was then discussed, e.g. whether Nole is bothered by what some commentators say about him, and he was also asked how keenly he follows the game when he’s not playing:

“Honestly, in recent years I’ve been listening very rarely to what commentators say. There’s a few I like to listen to though: “Viska” (Editor’s note: the nickname of Nebojsa Viskovic, one of the podcast’s two interviewers, also known as one of the leading Serbian commentators), Lleyton Hewitt, who does a great job at the Australian Open, John McEnroe, and Boris Becker.

There are also some I don’t really like, because they manage to make me nervous, so I turn down the volume when they’re on. During Grand Slam tournaments I mainly follow the evening matches. During the morning I stay with the kids, so I can’t do it. Generally, I watch the matches of my great rivals, Federer and Nadal, I never miss those. We follow each other, it’s normal and logical. I watch replicas on YouTube, so that I can skip some parts and watch just those I’m interested in: key moments and tipping points in the score, just to see how a certain player did under pressure.”

Djokovic came back later to the subject of commentators [Editor’s Note: the question also made reference to a survey among the readers of the site that produced discordant views about Viska’s bias towards Nole, with users saying that his comments are either too much or too little in favour of Serbia’s best] when he recounted an anecdote about something that happened to him just a few days ago:

“I was taking a walk with my wife and kids along the Sava [Belgrade’s river]. We were in a playground, and, at some point, the parents of the other kids arrived and immediately a small mob formed, when a man came to me and said, ‘do you know that I’m the only person in Serbia who supports Federer and not you?’, to which I answered, ‘I didn’t. I thought there were more, but if you really are the only one, then you’re a superhero. How can I turn you to my side?’ Then we talked a little bit and he asked if I was mad at him for that. I told him that it was one of his prerogatives to cheer for someone else. He asked me what kind of person Federer was and we kept joking around.

When he left, he told me that he was happy to have spoken to me, but he was a Federer fan because of his volleys. Everybody has his favourite player or commentator. The voice, the way you speak, somebody might find it irritating, somebody else reassuring. Personally, I can’t say to anyone: ‘You must cheer for me.’ Logically, we come from the same country, so I expect you to sympathise with Serbian players, but at the same time, why should this be an obligation? You’re not obliged to do it.

If you’re a commentator and you prefer Federer or somebody else, then talk the way you want. I like it when broadcasters express their personality while they’re commentating on matches, and I like it when they are authentic and take responsibility for it while remaining impartial and respectful, without crossing the limit of decency like some do.” There is a final caveat though: “In Davis Cup ties, everything is allowed.”

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