Novak Djokovic has revealed that Roger Federer ‘didn’t like’ his behaviour when he first appeared on the ATP Tour due to his abundance of confidence.
Federer, one of the most adored stars in tennis history, retired from the sport in 2022 having won 20 Grand Slams and is among the best players of all time.
Fellow ‘Big Three’ stars Rafael Nadal and Djokovic – who have won 22 and 24 major titles respectively – are still active and the latter booked his spot in the last 16 of the Australian Open on Friday with victory over Tomas Martin Etcheverry.
Speaking after the match, Djokovic was asked about his ‘big personality’ when he first burst onto the scene and if there were ever any older players that criticised him or gave him advice over how to act.
‘That’s a good question,’ Djokovic said in his post-match press conference. ‘I mean, I know certainly Federer didn’t like the way I was behaving at the beginning.
‘I think it didn’t sit with him well. I don’t know about the others. I guess I wasn’t the favourite type of guy to some of the top guys because I was not afraid to say that I want to be the best player in the world.
‘I was kind of – not kind of – I was confident. I felt like I have the game to back it up. I never, ever lacked respect. Whenever I start a match, before the match or finish the match, I would always greet the opponent, always acknowledge.
‘Respect is something that I was taught that needs to be present regardless of what is happening. Obviously on the court a lot of things can happen in the heat of a battle.
‘It was very long time ago now, 20 years since I made my first debut I think on the professional tour. It’s really hard to say who liked me more or less. I think I named one, so I don’t know. I can’t recall others.’
Pressed on if he listened to advice over his behaviour or tried to ignore criticism and stay true to himself, Djokovic added: ‘It was fuelling me even more. I mean, if I made a mistake, I would admit it and, of course, say I make a mistake, I raise my hand, I apologise or whatever.
‘But if the criticism came with no particular reason I think, then I would just keep going the kind of direction that I chose, and that’s it. I knew and I know today that you can’t have everyone liking you, who you are, how you play, how you behave, what you talk about.
‘It’s normal. We’re all different. We are all different preferences. As far as Ben Shelton’s level of confidence and coming out, I don’t mind that actually at all. I think it’s great. You got to believe. I’m all for that.
‘I support 100 per cent a young player coming out on the court, like Dino Prizmic did the other night against me, and Shelton is doing coming out believing in his capabilities that he can challenge the best players in the world.
‘I don’t dislike that at all. But there is obviously some kind of line, non-visible line, of acceptable behaviour I guess towards the other player.
‘If a player steps over that line, then obviously it starts being annoying.
‘That’s when you react or you don’t react, whatever. It just depends. But I’m all for young players showing confidence and speaking, always with respect, towards the older guys who are on the tour, but being confident in themselves and their tennis.’