‘Didn’t like the way I was behaving’: Djokovic admits Federer disagreement, backs Shelton and warns of ‘non-visible’ line of behaviour


Novak Djokovic has admitted that when he burst onto the professional scene, his approach rubbed Roger Federer the wrong way.

Speaking after his defeat of Tomás Martín Etcheverry at the Australian Open, the world number one admitted that his personality and desire to express himself did affect his relationships with other players on the circuit, but that it wasn’t a sign of disrespect.

“I know certainly Federer didn’t like the way I was behaving at the beginning,” Djokovic admitted to journalists.

“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 wanted to be the best player in the world.

“I was kind of – not kind of – I was confident. I felt like I had 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 a kind of heat of a battle.”

When asked if he ever listened to the advice of other tennis players, Djokovic admitted it pushed him to be more himself.

“It was fueling 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 in 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.

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“It’s normal. We’re all different. We all have different preferences.”

At the time of the interview, Djokovic was preparing for his next-round clash against American Ben Shelton, who was favourite to win his third-round clash against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. Shelton went on to bow out after a five-set thriller.

Djokovic admitted he approved of Shelton’s approach to his game, but that there was a line players could cross in terms of their behaviour.

“As far as Shelton’s level of confidence and coming out, I don’t mind that actually at all.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand in their round two singles match against Alexei Popyrin of Australia during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

“I think it’s great. You got to believe. I’m all for that. I support 100% a young player coming out on the court like Prizmic did the other night against me, and Shelton is 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.”

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