The tide is turning in tennis legend Novak Djokovic’s favour in gaining the respect he deserves from followers of the sport but he may have to wait for years post-retirement to be fully appreciated, says Daniil Medvedev.
World number two Medvedev was speaking after Djokovic had come back from a set down to beat him 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the final in Paris for a record-breaking 37th Masters 1000 title on Sunday.
This came a day after the 34-year-old Serbian won his semi-final to assure himself of another milestone — season-ending world number one for a seventh time.
In doing so he ended Medvedev’s slim hopes of toppling him, two months after the Russian dashed Djokovic’s dreams of a Grand Slam sweep in the US Open final.
Djokovic has spoken of the love he felt from the US Open crowd that day which has not always been the case elsewhere — in the Wimbledon final this year he was riled on several occasions by spectators siding with opponent Matteo Berrettini.
For many years too he has been seen as the odd one out of the three great rivals who have won 20 Grand Slams apiece.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are generally loved but the intense, deep-thinking Serbian provokes lukewarm sentiments.
Medvedev, though, believes the man he calls “his friend” will eventually get the recognition he deserves for his achievements.
“I have the feeling that people start more and more to respect what he has done in tennis,” said Medvedev.
“Because, well, he continues to beat the records.
“I feel like unless they are real haters, which are not real fans, people start to see what he’s done and to see that he’s able to do more.”
Medvedev says this comprehension of just how great a player Djokovic is will not reach full bloom quickly.
“I think that maybe ten years after he retires, because there is going to be people who will start watching tennis who will not have seen him play,” said Medvedev.
“Just like me, I didn’t see (Pete) Sampras play, I was too young but I heard he was amazing — it’s going to be the same.
“There are going to be new people coming to tennis who are just going to read in Wikipedia what were the results.
“Who was the World No 1 for most weeks, for most times in the end, and they are going to see Novak everywhere.
“That’s when people are going to start to understand, Okay, that’s amazing what he has done.”
Djokovic has a stock reply to questions as to how he rates his achievements.
“Of course, when I surpass one of the past champions, particularly someone that I looked up to when I was a kid like Pete Sampras (prior to Saturday he was tied with the American on six for finishing season-ending world number one), it means the world to me,” said Djokovic.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling. But, yes, I mean, in general terms, it’s just difficult for me to reflect fully on what was achieved.
“Not just this week but just in general in my career, I can’t really devote myself to thinking about the historic achievements.”
Djokovic, though, makes no secret of his desire to keep setting new standards.
“It is an objective, yes, to prove that I can break all the records,” he said. “I’m very motivated to carry on.”
In his moment of triumph he offered encouragement to ‘The Octopus’, as Medvedev is known for his ability to retrieve balls from impossible positions.
“He’s a complete, all-round player,” said Djokovic.
“He’s closing on the World No 1 ranking. I’m sure he’s going to get it eventually, and when he does, it’s completely deserved.
“He’s the leader of the next generation of players, challenging the three of us old guys.”