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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, January 19, 2024

Novak Djokovic has unleashed the warrior within winning 24 Grand Slam titles. 

The Grand Slam king said his emotional exuberance rubbed Roger Federer the wrong way at the start of his career.

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Reflecting on his younger years after sweeping Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the Australian Open third round, Djokovic said stating his mission statement of reaching the world No. 1 ranking and winning Grand Slams annoyed Federer and other veterans.

"I mean, I know certainly Federer didn't like the way I was behaving at the beginning," Djokovic told the media in Melbourne. "I think it didn't sit with him well. I don't know about the others.

"I guess I wasn't the favorite type of guy to some of the top guys because I was not afraid to say that I want to be the best player in the world. I was kind of - not kind of - I was confident, and I felt like I have the game to back it up."

Certainly, the 36-year-old Serbian superstar has shown his self-belief is self-warranted surpassing both Federer and Djokovic on the all-time Grand Slam list.

Despite those early clashes with the Swiss Maestro, Djokovic said there is always mutual respect.

"I never, ever lacked respect. Whenever I start a match, before the match or finish the match, I would always greet the opponent, always acknowledge," Djokovic said. "Respect is something that I was taught that needs to be present regardless of what is happening.

"Obviously on the court a lot of things can happen in a kind of heat of a battle. It was very long time ago now, 20 years since I made my first debut I think on the professional tour. It's really hard to say who liked me more or less. I think I named one, so I don't know. I can't recall others."

In the long run, criticism from veterans fueled Djokovic's desire.

In a bit of a role reversal, Djokovic mocked US Open semifinal opponent Ben Shelton after defeating the young American in Arthur Ashe Stadium last September. Djokovic mimicked Shelton's famed hang-up gesture saying after he didn't appreciate Shelton's brash gesture.

“It was a reaction against him, he did not behave properly, with respect, on court, and before the match,” Djokovic told L'Equipe earlier this month. “If anyone one places himself in the unsportsmanlike zone, I react.”

Shelton smiled off Djokovic's jab in his post-match presser saying "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Asked about the incident at the Australian Open, Djokovic, who will face 20th-seeded Adrian Mannarino in the fourth round after the Frenchman edged Shelton, said he respects Shelton's self-confidence but found the hang-up "annoying."

"As far as Shelton's level of confidence and coming out, I don't mind that actually at all. I think it's great," Djokovic said. "You got to believe. I'm all for that. I support 100% a young player coming out on the court, like Prizmic did the other night against me, and Shelton is doing coming out believing in his capabilities that he can challenge the best players in the world. I don't dislike that at all.

"But there is obviously some kind of line, non-visible line, of acceptable behavior I guess towards the other player. If a player steps over that line, then obviously it starts being annoying. That's when you react or you don't react, whatever. It just depends.

"But I'm all for young players showing confidence and speaking, always with respect, towards the older guys who are on the tour, but being confident in themselves and their tennis."

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty