Essential Novak Djokovic Facts For Any Tennis Fan

Love him or hate him, Novak Djokovic has become one of the most divisive figures in professional tennis. While the Serbian-born pro began playing competitively at the tender age of 4, he has since racked up an impressive 21 Grand Slam wins and is widely considered one of the best players to ever grace the court. In fact, when it comes to the 2020 Men's Tennis ATP Rankings, Djokovic currently ranks No. 7 (per ESPN).

But along with serving wins, Djokovic has also courted his fair share of controversy. In 2020, when many tennis matches were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Djokovic formed a Serbian-based tournament, without enforcing social distancing regulations. To the surprise of nobody, nearly everyone involved in the competition tested positive for COVID-19 within days of the event (per The New York Times). "We tried to do something with the right intentions," Djokovic said of the Adria Tour. "Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently, of course, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake? ... I know that the intentions were right and correct, and if I had the chance ... I would do it again."

Djokovic sparked even more backlash for his criticisms of pay equality in the professional circuit, which didn't exactly endear him to many fans and, of course, the star's infamously nasty temper only makes matters worse. Here's everything you need to know about tennis' bad boy.

Novak Djokovic has a bad temper

As one of the best tennis players in history, Novak Djokovic has a temper to match his ego, and at the 2020 U.S. Open, he pushed things too far. Djokovic was one win away from eclipsing Rafael Nadal and three away from surpassing long-time rival Roger Federer. However, things came to a halt when Djokovic broke against Pablo Carreño Busta and, in a fit of anger, whacked the ball backward. Unfortunately, the rogue ball didn't go spinning off as Djokovic no doubt intended. Instead, he hit the nearby line judge in the throat, per The Guardian.

Although the judge, Laura Clark, wasn't seriously injured, Djokovic was in a world of trouble, as he faced disqualification and numerous other penalties. And according to the Daily Mail, his plea for leniency went unheard. "She doesn't have to go to the hospital for this," he reportedly said. "You're going to choose a default in this situation?"

Djokovic later offered an apology via Instagram. "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," he wrote, adding that he would turn the disqualification into a lesson for growth. But it was too little, too late for the ill-tempered pro. Djokovic was defaulted — tennis-speak for disqualified — stripped of the $250,000 prize money he'd earned throughout the U.S. Open up to that point, fined an additional $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, and lost any rankings he'd attained during the tournament (per The New York Times).

He isn't a feminist

Novak Djokovic caused yet another scandal in 2016 when he agreed with Raymond Moore, the former CEO of the Paribas Open, that female tennis players should not be awarded as much prize money as male players. According to The Guardian, when asked for his thoughts, Djokovic responded: "Obviously it's a very delicate situation," before adding that, because men attract more viewers, they should be paid more than women.

Djokovic also insisted it was not a debate between the sexes and that he is, in fact, very much a fan of women's tennis. "Their bodies are much different to men's bodies," he explained. "They have to go through a lot of different things that we don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff." While 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams was quick to point out that "the women's final at the U.S. Open sold out well before the men" (per NPR), Djokovic doubled down on his stance in 2020, when he and other top male tennis professionals announced their plans to develop an all-male players' association in an effort to amplify their voices (per The New York Times).

However, Djokovic insists that he's not sexist. According to ESPN, when asked for clarification in 2016, he said he loves women. "I am married to a woman," he reminded reporters. Seems like Djokovic thinks liking women and respecting women are the same things.

Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia

Early in 2022, Novak Djokovic got into a heated battle with the Australian government in an effort to stay in the country to compete in the Australian Open, a competition in which he would be defending his title. Before the competition, however, Djokovic's visa was canceled and the Serb was deported from the country. What happened? Djokovic evidently lied on his visa paperwork and broke the country's "health and good order" regulations.

The Guardian reported that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic attempted to breach border entry regulations, which indicated one had to be vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption in order to enter the country. Australia's minister for health and aged care, Greg Hunt, told RN Breakfast that Djokovic didn't have a valid medical exemption, which is why he was deported. Djokovic had apparently claimed that his previous COVID-19 infection was a valid exemption for the vaccine, which didn't fly with Australian authorities, who were diligent in their vaccination stance amid the Omicron variation that was spreading at the time. "On multiple occasions we've said we disagree with anybody anywhere with an anti-vaxxer sentiment," Hunt told RN Breakfast.

He wasn't allowed to compete in the 2022 U.S. Open

The Australian Open wasn't the only major match that Novak Djokovic would miss in 2022. Due to his continued unvaccinated status, he also was not allowed to participate in the 2022 U.S. Open. Djokovic tweeted in August and announced he wouldn't be competing: "Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open. Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support. Good luck to my fellow players! I'll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again. See you soon tennis world!"

Following his tweet, ESPN reported that Djokovic was unable to travel to the United States due to COVID-19 restrictions. The outlet further explained that the tennis star was also unable to participate in the Western & Southern Open, in addition to the National Bank Open, because of his unvaccinated status. The athlete doesn't seem to mind, however, since he told the BBC that being excluded for being unvaccinated was "a price [he] was willing to pay."

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who has also not been shy about his anti-vax stance regarding COVID-19) was livid about Djokovic being barred from the 2022 U.S. Open. Rodgers told Bill Maher: "The best f***ing player on the men's side can't play. One of the most fit guys in the f***ing world who's had COVID at least once, if not twice, can't f***ing come to New York?"

Novak Djokovic's brothers played tennis too

When your brother is the best men's tennis player in the world, it's probably nerve-wracking to play the same sport. So it's not really surprising that both Marko and Djordje Djokovic stopped playing tennis after their brother continued to dominate the field. In 2015, Novak Djokovic told Tennis that his brother Marko was done playing the sport professionally, while his other brother, Djordje, was undecided.

"If you look at the history of all the successful athletes and their siblings that are younger than them, there are not many that manage to follow that success up and at least achieve something that is close to that," Novak told the outlet. "It's very difficult for them to have to encounter these kind[s] of mental challenges everywhere they go." At the time, Tennis reported Djordje was ranked no. 1,502 in singles, while Marko at his peak was no. 581 in 2012.

Although the brothers don't play together anymore professionally, they're still very much in one another's lives. In fact, Marko started as Novak's assistant coach in 2019.

He speaks multiple languages

It's not uncommon for folks to speak multiple languages, but Novak Djokovic doesn't just speak one or two — he speaks 11. Babbel even named him as one of the most multilingual athletes in the world (he's ranked #1), alongside Mikel Arteta, who knows seven, and Pa-Modou Kah, who speaks eight. The outlet detailed that Djokovik speaks Serbian (his native language) as well as English, German, Italian, French, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese, though the outlet also noted that it is unknown if he is really fluent in all of those languages.

Tennis Tips reported that Djokovic is fluent in Serbian, English, and Italian. During a 2013 press conference, the tennis pro said learning many languages is something Serbian people really respect. "We have a saying in our country: The more languages you know, more is your worth as a person," he explained, via Tennis World USA. "Back in elementary school, we had two languages that we were obliged to learn. English was the first one, and then we could choose the second one." He added that Chinese was a very difficult language for him to learn, especially because there are 3,000 letters in the alphabet, but he stated he wanted to learn them all eventually.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are tough competitors

When it comes to tennis rivalries, few have a more heated relationship than Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. As of September 2022, the rivals have faced each other 59 times, which is more than any other player, according to Tennis Majors. Additionally, the outlet reported that Djokovic is currently in the lead in their rivalry by a hair: He has 30 wins against Nadal, whereas Nadal has won 29 times against Djokovic. Djokovic also has more finals wins, with 15 to Nadal's 13.

Despite their rivalry, however, Nadal offered sympathy to his fellow competitor when Djokovic announced he would be missing the U.S. Open in 2022. "I repeat what I said plenty of times: the sport in some ways is bigger than any player," he said, per The Guardian. "I missed a lot of important events in my tennis career because of injuries, without a doubt. Last year I was not here. Two years ago I was not here. The tournament continues."

He founded the Novak Djokovic Foundation

As part of his legacy, Novak Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, founded the Novak Djokovic Foundation. The foundation focuses on giving children the opportunity to grow in early childhood education, no matter their background. According to the foundation's website, their work involves "taking a collaborative approach and working alongside local authorities to train and empower teachers, [and] create self-sustaining schools and programs that will help children realize their dreams for the rest of their lives."

In August 2022, the foundation noted that the couple's inspiration for the organizational work stems from their families, who supported their educations even at very young ages. CharityStars framed the foundation's work by explaining that, in Serbia, only half of the nation's children have access to early childhood (preschool) education. The outlet continued by saying that the foundation so far has built or redone 18 schools, helped over 10,000 children, and trained over 600 teachers in an effort to increase early childhood educational opportunities.

Scientists named a kind of snail after him

Novak Djokovic is already one of the best tennis players in the world and the athlete who knows the most languages, but what other sports folks have a species named after them? That's right, in 2021 scientists named a new species of snail after the tennis star. Per The Irish Times, the species was discovered in Montenegro in 2019 and named Travuijana djokovici. According to the outlet, scientists at the time said they named the snail after Djokovic as a way "to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy," which is an ironic sentiment for a snail, is it not?

All the same, it was a sentiment that Djokovic accepted with good humor. He told Eurosport, "I don't know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me. Maybe it's a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!" Either way, what a cool thing to be able to claim.

He's a fan of meditation

Meditation isn't just something that Novak Djokovic does, he lives by it. He told Amuse in 2018 that meditation and yoga are big pieces of his success as an athlete. "I do [meditation and yoga] out of a need to have an optimal state of mind and peace and calm, and at the same time happiness and joy," he told the outlet. "Everybody has their ways to reach that state of consciousness where you're in a good mood and you feel love towards yourself, towards people around you, towards the planet. So I try to be aligned with this kind of approach and mindset in life."

ESPN reported in 2015 that the tennis star was a frequent visitor to the Buddhapadipa Temple, because it was a place where he could quiet his mind. Djokovic told the outlet that, when he is competing somewhere like Wimbledon Village, he achieves that peace by being out in nature as a way to reset between practice or matches. Apparently, the monks from the temple even follow Djokovic's career, a huge deal, considering they told ESPN they don't own a television or watch sports.

Novak Djokovic is worth over $200 million

As of this writing, Novak Djokovic is worth over $220 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Per the outlet, Djokovic has earned more money on the court than any other player in professional tennis history, even setting a prize money season in 2011 with a whopping $12 million. His fortune also stems from his numerous endorsements with companies like Uniqlo, Lacoste, and Mercedes-Benz. Evidently his Lacoste endorsement pays eight figures every year, according to Celebrity Net Worth, meaning his endorsements are a big part of his yearly income. The outlet noted he even bested Roger Federer's lifetime prize sum in 2019 when he hit $133 million to Federer's $124 million.

Between his winnings, his salary, and his endorsements, it's no surprise that he is one of the wealthiest tennis players of all time. According to Sports Brief, he has his rival Rafael Nadal beat. Nadal's net worth is only $180 million, though Djokovic's got a ways to go to best Ion Tiriac's $1.2 billion net worth.

He had a terrifying experience as a child

Novak Djokovic grew up in the former Yugoslavian city of Belgrade, and war was happening all around him, the athlete told Graham Bensinger. Bombings occurred frequently and were terrifying for children, like Djokovic, who didn't know what was going on. But there was one moment in particular from the war that has never left Djokovic, which he recounted to Bensinger.

"We were just about to fall asleep, again, and then a huge explosion happened," he recounted. "My mom, she stood up very quickly and she hit the headers with her head, and she fell unconscious. And so it was us crying because of the bombs, and us crying because Mom is not reacting. ... Luckily my dad manages to help my mom get back to herself. ... My dad was carrying my brothers and my mom was running with stuff and then I slipped and I fell. And as I turn around I looked towards the building and I see these stealth planes flying and just dropping things and then the ground is shaking. Of course, that's one of the most traumatic experiences and images that I had in my childhood." 

Because of those experiences, Djokovic knows firsthand how terrifying war is, so he made a point to reach out to Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky when the invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Djokovic said he just wanted to check and make sure he was okay, according to Eurosport.