If you look for the ratings of the most famous people in Serbia, they are always headed by two people – either the great scientist Nikola Tesla, or the great athlete Novak Djokovic.
Most recently, Novak won the Australian Open for the 10th time and took the 22nd Grand Slam trophy, equaling the record of Rafael Nadal. Now almost all tennis records belong to Djokovic, so it is very difficult to argue that he is the greatest tennis player in history.
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Serbian journalist Sasha Ozmo, who wrote a book about Novak’s greatness, met with Sports.ru correspondent Maksim Yanchevsky in Melbourne and explained why the tennis player has become perhaps the main source of national pride:
«Serbia is a country that is immersed in sports. Fans emotionally react to the success of compatriot athletes, identifying themselves with them. And Novak is probably the greatest athlete in the country in history, and he is important to people – and not only to those who follow the sport, but also to those compatriots who are not involved in it. He is the face of the country, its image maker. But I can’t say that there is a cult of his personality in the country, it sounds too loud».
In Australia, Djokovic is always supported by a huge group of fans with Serbian roots, in the stands there are always many Serbian flags and posters of Novak’s greatness. And in Belgrade there are many murals dedicated to the hero, and you can buy a T-shirt with his face on almost every corner.
And the broadcasts of his matches at home are always the most popular sporting events: «I can’t give specific numbers, but it’s not just about the Grand Slams. And the finals of TBSH with his participation are generally watched by the majority of the population» – says Ozmo.
For many Serbs, Novak is a symbol that anything is possible. He grew up under NATO bombing, from a poor country he made his way into the sport for the rich – and not only broke through, but became the greatest in it. This is a huge source of motivation and faith in the strength of the Serbian spirit.
Another reason for the insane popularity of Djokovic is his accessibility to his compatriots. When he comes to Serbia, he calmly walks his dog and can spontaneously play tennis with local children.
The New York Times reported last year about a guy who lost his job and wrote a letter to Djokovic in an attempt to get his life back on track: «He hasn’t received a response yet, but he’s not losing hope». So people believe in Novak in everything.
However, this is not blind love. Even ardent fans have criticized him for the last two years for not wanting to be vaccinated against the coronavirus – but still they did not stop admiring and being proud of his achievements.
When Djokovic brings big trophies to Serbia, he is greeted at the airport by thousands of people. And when in 2021 he broke the record for weeks at the top of the rankings, a large celebratory demonstration gathered outside his restaurant in Belgrade.
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