Roger Federer admits to initial lack of respect for Novak Djokovic as tennis legend bares all

Federer says he initially didn't believe Djokovic was anything special.

A nice guy who couldn't fake being a bad boy or pretend to hate his opponents to gain an advantage – while obsessing over how to stay number one as he became the hunted. They are some of the main take-aways from the Roger Federer documentary Federer: Twelve Final Days, a Prime Video documentary capturing the tennis great's emotional retirement in 2022.

Much like his stellar 24- year career, which yielded 20 Grand Slam titles, the peek behind the scenes in the lead up to Federer's departure from tennis is meticulously planned and rehearsed, with all the right boxes ticked. The footage was originally never meant to be released but intended as a keepsake for Federer's family and inner circle, who are present as he practises his farewell statement in preparation for his official exit from the game.

Pictured left Roger Federer and right with Novak Djokovic
Roger Federer admits he initially didn't believe Novak Djokovic was anything special. Image: Getty

There are no major revelations in the documentary but Federer does delve deeper into some of his on-court rivalries. At first, he wasn't keen on Rafa Nadal's rapid explosion onto the world tennis scene.

"I liked being at the top alone," Federer says of his initial discomfort with the Spaniard. If Nadal's arrival unsettled him, it was nothing compared to Novak Djokovic's entry.

The brash and combative Serb was everything Federer was not, even if the Swiss champion did admit to a short personality change in a bid to come across more aggressive. "Did I have to grunt more, shout, sweat? I tried, but it was all an act. That wasn't my personality," Federer says.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 03: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates to the crowd after his victory against Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina in the Men's Singles fourth round match during Day Nine of the 2024 French Open at Roland Garros on June 03, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Roger Federer admits to underestimating Novak Djokovic's prowess.

He took a lot longer to warm to Djokovic than he did Nadal but admits to underestimating the Serbian's prowess. "Even though there was some hype around him, I wasn’t really fully convinced," Federer recalls following his first meeting with Djokovic in 2006.

"I think I didn’t give Novak the respect he deserved because of his technical flaws. I felt like Novak had a very extreme forehand grip and his backhand for me wasn't as fluid as it is nowadays. But then he ironed those things out super well and became an unbelievable monster of a player."

Federer also gives his thoughts on why Djokovic polarised fans in those early days. "I guess he was the party crasher of Rafa and Roger fans," he says.

"There was a lot of Rafa-Roger love there, so when Novak came probably a lot of people said ‘look, we don’t need a third guy. We’re happy with Roger and Rafa’. Novak came in with his strong personality and that unbelievable grit of wanting to win at all costs."

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Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray all feature in the documentary, with the four involved in an emotional farewell at Federer's final tournament, the Laver Cup in London.

"It’s been a perfect journey," Federer signs off. "I’d do it all over again."

  • Federer: Twelve final days premieres on Prime Video on June 20