Novak Djokovic’s “messianic” presence in Serbia “just a lot”, says tennis journalist; suggests removal of all national flags from the sport
Novak Djokovic is unquestionably one of the greatest athletes of all time. The 22-time Grand Slam champion from Serbia has earned the respect not only of his compatriots but also of sports fans around the world.
Well-known tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg, however, is not a fan of the highly patriotic environment created by the Serbian’s fans during or after his matches. In his No Challenges Remaining podcast, Rothenberg spoke about the 35-year-old’s unparalleled connection to Serbs around the world.
“The kind of growing envelopment of these tennis players in nationalism – that’s obviously very strong with Djokovic. I mean Djokovic is tied to Serbian identity and Serbian national pride in such a way that I don’t think not that a tennis player has ever been linked to his country before,” Rothenberg said. “Like you see his name projected onto skyscrapers and stuff in Belgrade after his victory. And the parades and the level of fervor just for him,” he added.
Ben Rothenberg then called Novak Djokovic a ‘messianic figure’ and described how he is seen as a savior.
“You know a downright messianic figure almost in Serbia, who came to redeem Serbia and bring it out of that dark time that it had, into the light, being that great champion and the greatest of all time in sport” , he noted.
The reporter said such a perception of Novak Djokovic by his fans was inappropriate and led to a heavy crowd engagement, which was unwarranted.
“It’s just a lot. It all gets very, very busy and very busy,” he said. “I feel like it’s worth bringing the temperature down, if possible, for the sport.”
As a solution to the problem, Ben Rothenberg advocated the removal of all national flags from tennis matches, similar to what was done with Russia and Belarus.
“I almost wonder, looking at what they did with Sabalenka, and the other Belarusians and Russians – taking down the flags, can we just take down all the flags? I think it’s a doable option,” he said. ‘It looks like a big net negative’ – Ben Rothenberg reiterates his stance on nationalism displayed by tennis fans, including those of Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic cheered by Serbian fans at Australian Open 2023
Novak Djokovic has been cheered on by dozens of Serbian fans over the years at the Australian Open. The 22-time Grand Slam champion also received support in the form of protests when he was kicked out of Australia in 2022.
Ben Rothenberg, however, believes that this kind of patriotic support is unnecessary in a sport like tennis, especially as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is underway.
“They keep trying to highlight nationalities with all these team events like the United Cup,” he noted. “In wartime, like we’re in wartime right now, significantly with the Russians and Ukraine, it feels like a big net negative and I just wish there was a way to make all the independent players.”
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