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A former pro has claimed that Novak Djokovic is often “misunderstood” by fans following the Serb’s run to a historic 10th Australian Open title. Alex Corretja also discussed the world No 1’s relationship with Rafael Nadal, comparing it to the Spaniard’s friendship with Roger Federer as he admitted the world No 6 likely wouldn’t be as close with Djokovic.
Djokovic recently matched Nadal’s men’s singles Grand Slam record by winning his 22nd Major at the Australian Open. The world No 1 was said to be carrying a three-centimetre hamstring tear during his run to the title and dealt with some added pressure in what was his return to the tournament after being deported from the country last year, while his dad became embroiled in controversy after being caught in a video with pro-Putin protesters.
It left the 35-year-old splitting opinion once again, with some questioning why he would play injured or whether the injury was fake while others lauded his ability to win a Major while physically hindered. But he has now been defended by retired pro Corretja, who claimed that the Serb was just “misunderstood” and could see how much his historic 10th Aussie Open crowd meant.
“Look how Djokovic celebrated the other day and how he hugged his family and especially his brother and his mother,” the former world No 2 told Cadena SER. “When he hugs his brother, he feels that harmony that works with Pepe Imaz and at that moment Djokovic feels that this work is not in vain.”
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Corretja was referencing Sunday’s emotional scenes which saw Djokovic sob in his mum and brother’s arms before he laid down on the floor of his player box and continued to cry as his team surrounded him. And the Spanish pro-turned-pundit said the outburst was a release of the stressful positions he had found himself in throughout his career, defending the world No 1 from his critics.
He continued: “That hug to his brother is the accumulation of managing many situations for years. What Djokovic transmits is pure passion for everything he does. I think that Djokovic has been misunderstood many times, he has a very big soul, beyond his things and his ideals, which he has maintained and respected without deceiving anyone, he has always been very sincere.”
The two-time French Open finalist also discussed his perception of Djokovic’s relationship with Nadal after the 35-year-old tied his rival’s Grand Slam record. While Corretja thought they got along and had an understood mutual respect, he admitted that they would likely never have a bond as close as the world No 6 has with Federer. “I think that Nadal and Djokovic have a respectful relationship but I don’t see them going to dinner together to discuss situations,” he explained.
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“In tennis, everyone is very closed to their team. The same thing happened to us, they are different habits, you have different schedules, another way of being… Just as Federer and Nadal had a rivalry but turned it into something closer, Djokovic and Nadal have been on opposite paths at the level of ideals and sharing things with the fans.”
Discussing Nadal and Djokovic’s admiration for one another, he added: “I think they both have a very deep vision of the sport, they have given everything. We are talking about one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. I don’t know if it’s so easy to be the best friend of someone with whom you risk so many things.” And Corretja also drew on his own experience from his playing days during his rivalry with Carlos Moya, who is now Nadal’s coach.
“Moya and I were great friends, he beat me in the Roland Garros final and I beat him in the Masters final,” he continued. “Unintentionally, there comes a time when you stop giving clues because you don’t want to make it easier for the other if you have concerns and you stop being so close… Well, imagine what happens with Rafa and Novak. They respect each other, I don’t think they have a friendship of sending each other whatsapps, something that Roger and Rafa did, they were more relaxed. The most important thing of all is that there is mutual respect.”
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