Novak Djokovic has revealed he accepted the role as “the bad guy of tennis” in his rivalry with fellow legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The Serbian admitted he had to deal with feeling “like there was no room for three” after his rise to the top of the game followed Federer and Nadal establishing their rivalry.
Federer and Nadal had won 12 and three Grand Slam titles respectively before Djokovic claimed his first at the 2008 Australian Open.
The Swiss and Spanish pair then secured 10 of the next 11 majors between them, until Djokovic broke their duopoly – starting with his second Slam triumph at the 2011 Australian Open.
Djokovic has faced Federer 50 times, holding a 27-23 edge, while he holds a 30-29 lead over Nadal from their 59 encounters – an ATP record.
In an interview with tennis great John McEnroe for ESPN, Djokovic discussed the dynamic of the remarkable three-way rivalry between himself, Nadal and Federer.
“The rivalry with Nadal and Federer, and I kind of put myself in the mix. In a way, for many years, I felt like there was no room for three so I had to deal with that,” explained the 36-year-old.
“But it’s okay, at the end of the day I accepted that role I have as maybe the bad guy of tennis.”
Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final of the 2023 US Open last week to claim a record-extending 24th men’s Grand Slam crown. Nadal and Federer sit second and third on the all-time men’s list with 22 and 20 majors respectively.
Former world No 4 James Blake, an analyst for ESPN, suggested the Serbian’s latest Grand Slam victory has put his status as the ‘GOAT’ beyond any doubt.
“There will always be watercooler debates, but it’s going to be tough, and much more difficult, for anyone to argue in any other direction outside of Novak being the greatest of all time with him at 24,” said the American.
“To me, it’s similar to when Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl and there was still that debate about him and Joe Montana [as the greatest ever], and then Brady goes and win his fifth, and then his sixth, and, well, the debate is over, and then it just became him adding to his legend and his legacy. That’s sort of the situation we’re in with Novak right now.”
Djokovic overtook Carlos Alcaraz to regain the world No 1 spot this week following his fourth US Open victory.