Novak Djokovic — The Hate Is Real

5 min readJun 12, 2023


Dear Katharine Viner, James Dart and the Guardian senior editorial team

Novak Djokovic — The Hate Is Real

I read with absolute disgust two articles written in the Guardian less than 24 hours after Novak Djokovic cemented his place as the Greatest male tennis player that ever lived. The two articles in question are Jonathan Liew’s piece titled, All-conquering Novak Djokovic moves into house that Rafael Nadal built” and Ben Bramble’s piece, titled “Novak Djokovic’s 23rd grand slam is a record — but please don’t call him the GOAT.” Though written by separate authors, the intention was the same — to downplay the significance of Djokovic’s accomplishments. What I find shocking is that both articles passed the Guardian’s editorial process.

Jonathan Liew’s article not only attempted to diminish the significance of Djokovic’s victory but also attacked Djokovic’s character and insulted Djokovic’s fans who travelled to Paris to support their hero. Liew noted, “The GOAT thing. Must we? Can we not? Perhaps the only remotely novel insight anyone can add to this insufferable pub debate is that men’s tennis has an opportunity to move beyond this wildly boring exercise in counting things and arguing about them.” He then suggested that Djokovic throws tantrums to gain an advantage, “No other athlete on earth can simply will himself into a devastating fury like this. Whatever it takes — a contentious line call, the crowd, an injury that exists entirely in his head — Djokovic can turn on his piqued berserker mode as if flicking a switch …. And how useful that these tantrums seem to coincide with the key moments. Djokovic played 55 tie-break points at this year’s tournament. He won 42 of them and made no unforced errors.” The nadir of Liew’s article was his ugly xenophobic attack on Djokovic fans. He wrote, “You can always spot the Djokovic fans at a grand slam tournament. There is a definite type at these events. Bored-looking blond men in designer shades. Crudité-thin women who for some reason refuse to use their jacket sleeves. Against this backdrop of clinking champagne glasses and easy unearned wealth, the boisterous Team Nole crews stand out like a breadstick in a Martini.”

If Liew’s article was characterised by its classicism and xenophobia, Ben Bramble’s article was comical at best and half-witted at worst. Perhaps because Bramble could not dispute the fact that Djokovic is now the greatest male tennis player of all time, he was left with no choice but to clutch at straws to make his case. To dismiss the fact that Djokovic’s 23 Grand Slam titles excel Federer’s 20 slams and Nadal’s 22 slams, Bramble notes, “But can the numbers lie? Yes!” To justify this senseless analysis, he poses what could go down as the silliest justification ever printed in the Guardian, “Suppose a tennis player comes along who is 10 feet tall. Every serve is an ace. He never loses a service game. He wins 30 grand slams. Is he the GOAT (greatest of all time)? No.He then goes a step further, “Suppose that in the next few years, there is another world war, and the majority of young men are conscripted. But the grand slams are still played, and Dave wins 30 of them. Is Dave the greatest? Certainly not.” For someone who claims to be a philosophy lecturer at ANU, to write such an article with so many fallacies is mind-boggling. As Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist, put it, “Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.”

It is a shame that Djokovic had barely put his trophy down as these two articles appeared in the Guardian. While Jonathan Liew and Ben Bramble are entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their facts. The facts speak for themselves. Relative to his two other rivals (Federer and Nadal) and every other male tennis player, Djokovic comes up on top — be it Grand Slam wins, weeks as number one seed, Masters 1000 titles, Head to Head wins, ranking points, Top 3, 5 and 10 wins, consecutive Grand Slams, number of careers slams, ATP World Tour wins and win-loss percentage. By allowing these two articles to pass the Guardian’s editorial process, the paper has joined a long list of Western media houses that have used their medium to diminish the greatness of Djokovic. Were such negative spewing articles written in the Guardian when Rafa Nadal reached the 22 Grand Slam milestone in June 2022, and Federer reached a record-breaking 20 Grand Slam in January 2018? Absolutely Not.

As a Djokovic fan who has gone to the various Grand Slams to watch him play, I find Jonathan Liew’s xenophobic description of Djokovic fans deeply offensive. I happen to know some of the people whose images were included in the article and for them to be described as “Bored-looking blond men in designer shades. Crudité-thin women who for some reason refuse to use their jacket sleeves,” is a manifestation of the gutter journalism that people are accustomed to reading in some of the tabloids. Has the Guardian now become the Daily Mail of the left? When such xenophobic and classism-laden words are allowed to thrive in your paper, should you be surprised why many people view the British media as out of touch and elitist? Also, as a Serena Williams fan, I watched how the Western press demonised and diminished her accomplishments. It was not until she was leaving the scene that they began to sing her praise. Is this going to be the same fate that will befall Nole? Demonise him in his prime and praise him when he is no longer a threat to the Western hegemony?

While I am not a fan of censorship, I hope that in future, you be more diligent in your editorship and don’t allow your distinguished paper to be used as a medium to spread falsehood, xenophobia and classism. Since the Guardian’s motto is, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” may I suggest that you be true to what you have written on paper?


Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA


June 2023