Just as legendary as the players themselves, the relationships between Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal are well-known, too. Nadal and Federer seem to get along pretty well, and Djokovic and the other two have a relatively cool relationship. Or perhaps no relationship at all.
Late in 2023, Djokovic spoke about how as a young player he was intimidated a bit by the more successful Nadal and Nadal's pre-match routine of sprinting through the locker room and playing his music fairly loudly. Nadal then disputed Djokovic's narrative and said he was never trying to intimidate anyone.
Federer has always been a bit more of a politician in terms of how he addressed relationships with other players. But tennis fans can observe from afar that how Federer interacted with Djokovic was different than how he interacted with many other players, especially top players. But what is it that made Djokovic different? The Serb has an idea.
Novak Djokovic talks about his early relationship with Roger Federer
Speaking to the media after his third-round victory over Tomas Martin Etcheverry at the Australian Open on Friday, Djokovic said, "I know Federer certainly 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."
Djokovic felt the faith he had in himself might have come across as arrogance as he played with a high level of confidence even though he had yet to win Grand Slams and had not reached No. 1 on the ATP. Novak Djokovic thought he would get there, but he thinks maybe the way he was acting could have been interpreted as a lack of respect for other players.
Djokovic spoke about that as well saying, "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."
Thinking of a recent time when Djokovic disrespected an opponent on the court is difficult, to be sure. He often heaps praise on his opponent at the end of a tournament whether he wins or loses. During a match he might get caught up in the moment at times, but he never appears to direct his anger or any other kind of emotion directly at his opponent. Plus, after winning 24 Grand Slams, Djokovic has probably earned the right to behave almost any way he wants.