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Novak Djokovic’s certainty that he is the victim highlights his tunnel vision

Like many of the greats Djokovic puts his needs before all others
Djockovic seems to think society should bend to his whims

Djockovic seems to think society should bend to his whims

Roy Curtis

The delusion that permits Novak Djokovic to imagine himself as some kind of Serbian Nelson Mandela – railing against a great apartheid – reinforces an eternal truth.

Djokovic’s misplaced certainty that he is the victim in his visa dispute with Australian authorities opens a window to the extreme tunnel-vision that propels sport’s most driven figures to greatness.

Here is a characteristic that unites an abundance of the planet’s alpha athletes.

It is innate to so many sporting titans (and captains of industry): From Tiger Woods to AP McCoy, Michael Jordan to Lewis Hamilton, Lance Armstrong to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Nick Faldo was, for many years, its patron saint.

A combination of a savage work-ethic, a willingness to cross any line to separate themselves from the rest of the field, an extreme competitive selfishness, a child-like absence of perspective or emotional intelligence, indifference to alternate world views, and an absolute conviction that the planet revolves, 24/7, around their needs.

Distilled down to its essence, it is an almost infantile insistence on reducing the dimensions of the universe down to the needs of the reflection in the mirror.

There is no Do or Re in Djokovic’s Sound of Music. Only Me-Me-Me.

Examples of this high-grade self-obsession present themselves every time we turn on the TV.

In Djokovic’s stubborn refusal to even for a moment consider compromise, his inability – as Rafa Nadal pointed out – to recognise a solution to admission to Oz is in his hands: vaccinate.

Or Romelu Lukaku railing against the club that pays him £350,000-a-week, while fluttering his eyelids seductively at his former Italian amour.

Both cases illustrate a DNA sequence devoid of even the slightest trace of the embarrassment gene.

Ayrton Senna would think nothing of propelling his car like a high-speed torpedo into the chassis of a rival if it guaranteed him another world title.

Armstrong would inject into his bloodstream whatever illegal potion was required to take him to the front of the peloton.

McCoy, by his own admission, would set out to make his own wife cry when the winners dried up for even a single day.

Bryson De Chambeau sails around a golf course on the tide of his own narcissism, indifferent to how his conceited and ethically dubious showboating maddens or distracts his playing partners.

Jordan, perhaps the most athletically gifted athlete of all-time, routinely treated even the most capable team-mates (stand up Scottie Pippen) like dog-droppings, while confecting opposition slights from thin air.

Anything to eke out an edge.

Frequently this narrow world view and sense of privilege makes the superstar appear divorced from reality, a study in dysfunction.

Djokovic’s father thus compares placing his son in a four star Melbourne hotel, while a decision is made on whether he should be exempted from a requirement to vaccinate before entering Australia, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The inability to read the room is mind-boggling.

Melbourne has endured one of the planet’s longest and most demanding Covid lockdowns, yet the unvaccinated world number one rails against any suggestion that he must comply to rules to which all Victorians are compelled to submit.

Djokovic has clearly been caught up in some local political grandstanding – Australia’s federal government turning on him to deflect from their own shambolic Covid mismanagement.

But the Serb’s contemptuous disregard for his hosts’ sensibilities erodes any inclination towards sympathy.

In the bigger picture it is fascinating to observe how “qualities” that would be frowned upon in everyday life are indulged in the sporting world.

And to understand that in many cases this egomaniacal navel-gazing is, in fact, integral to an athlete’s pursuit of greatness.

Call it Spoilt Brat Syndrome (a verdict containing more than an element of truth).

But if they swapped it for a more considered world view could CR7 have claimed the Ballon d’Or five times, McCoy have been champion jockey in Britain 20 times, or could Hamilton have stayed at the front of the F1 grid year after year?

While Djokovic now sits on the cusp of overtaking Nadal and Roger Federer and advancing into uncharted Grand Slam territory?

The uncomfortable truth is probably not.

Brilliant but emotionally flawed, these obsessives hone natural-born talents with a manic and unapologetic pursuit of every marginal gain.

Pushing body and mind to the brink, they sacrifice, starve, make their Faustian pacts – while always placing their needs front and centre.

The result is a state of perpetual adolescence, which, however grating, emerges as a vital weapon in their fight to push out the boundaries of achievement.

Optics are unimportant.

A perfect illustration is unspooling in Australia and we see in Djokovic something from which we are instinctively inclined to recoil.

A kind of arrested development, a failure to advance beyond the Freudian id that, in the real world, would earn a man pariah status.

But which at Augusta or Aintree enables an athlete to reach out in the most demanding circumstances and seize sporting immortality.

Djokovic and Lukaku are just the latest superstars to view the world through the prism of self.

To inhabit that closeted environment where the first waking question of every day is ‘what suits me?’

To believe society, regardless of the collateral damage, should always bend to their needs, because, for them, life begins and ends with the man in the mirror.

It hardly matters to Djokovic that most of us think the past week has, not for the first time, exposed him as something of an entitled conspiracy-theorist.

On planet Novak he is the anti-vax Mandela, cooped up in an Antipodean Robben Island, an unbending and heroic victim of injustice, anticipating the hour when he takes that long walk to freedom.

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