Roger Federer: I didn’t give Novak Djokovic respect he deserved – neither did my fans

Roger Federer has acknowledged he did not give Novak Djokovic “the respect he deserved” when he first emerged as a contender during the great era of men’s tennis.

Djokovic struggled to gain the same levels of support among fans as the likes of Federer and Rafael Nadal because he was seen as a “party crasher”, the 20-times Grand Slam champion says.

“I think he’s been a little bit misunderstood,” he adds of Djokovic in a new behind-the-scenes documentary, Federer: Twelve Final Days, on Amazon Prime.

Djokovic, who has now surpassed Federer’s feats with a total of 24 Grand Slams, was once dismissed as a true great by his Swiss rival, the documentary suggests.

“I played him in Monaco the very first time [Federer won 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 in 2006] and I walked off the court and thought, ‘Yeah, he’s OK’, ” Federer said.

“Even though there was some hype around him, I wasn’t really fully convinced. I think I didn’t give Novak the respect he deserved because of his technical flaws. I felt like Novak had a very extreme forehand grip and his backhand for me wasn’t as fluid as it is nowadays. But then he ironed those things out super well and became an unbelievable monster of a player.”

For a long time, Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray took more plaudits from fans as men’s tennis reached new levels over the past 15 years.

Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal applaudDjokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal applaud

Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal elevated men’s tennis to new levels – Shutterstock/Alberto Martin

“I guess he was the party crasher of Rafa and Roger fans,” Federer said. “There was a lot of Rafa-Roger love there, so when Novak came probably a lot of people said, ‘Look, we don’t need a third guy. We’re happy with Roger and Rafa’.

“The Federer fans at the beginning didn’t really like him because they just thought, ‘Roger’s a bit more easy, he does it with ease’. Then Novak came in with his strong personality and that unbelievable grit of wanting to win at all costs. I think also Novak was triggered by the relationship with the fans. I think that deep focus maybe scared some people away.

“I think he’s been a little bit misunderstood. I look past the media and I see at the end the man he is. If I take away his game, who is he? What are his values? I know he cares very deeply about his family.”

The new Federer documentary is released on Monday, a fortnight out from the start of Wimbledon.

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