Watch tape of any Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic match, and regardless of who wins, what's most likely to follow are polite handshakes, long hugs over the net, and comments from both stars dedicated to praising his opponent—not the kind of natural reaction you'd expect from two people who just spent almost five hours fighting each other over every point.
But that's just how men's tennis has been for a while now. For almost a decade, the men's tour has done its best to remind us that its top players share nothing but great friendship and respect for each other. In front of a weeping Federer at the 2009 Australian Open, Rafael Nadal started his winning speech with an empathetic "Sorry Roger" and six years later, Djokovic, despite fighting his tears at missing out on another shot at a career Slam, held Stan Wawrinka in a long embrace last weekend at the French Open.
But Djokovic's coach Boris Becker is tired of all the political correctness and "fake" friendships. He decided to drop a simple and unsurprising fact: Djokovic and Federer, the current World No. 1 and 2, don't like each other, the former six-time Grand Slam winner says in his new autobiography Wimbledon: My Life And Career At The All England Club. Becker says the two don't get along and it's quite an "open secret" among people close to them.
It began, as most blood feuds do, with a beef between Federer and Djokovic's box. During a 2008 match in Monaco, Federer told Djokovic's parents to shut up—in doing so, earning cheers from the crowd. The previous year, while playing a Davis Cup tie against Serbia, Federer had called the timing of Djokovic's medical timeouts "a joke." Switzerland won the tie, but Federer was still angry afterwards.
"You know I don't trust his injuries ... I mean I'm serious, and I think that he's a joke when he comes down to these injuries. The rules are there to be used but not abused and that's what he's been doing many times," he said. "That's why I wasn't happy to see him doing that and then running around like a rabbit again. Yeah it was a good handshake for me. I was happy to beat him."
Djokovic's father didn't take kindly to that insult, and responded with some mud-slinging at the Swiss. "Federer is perhaps still the best tennis player in history, but as a man he's the opposite," he said. "He realised that he (Djokovic) was his successor and was trying to discredit him in every way."
Almost a decade since those incidents, Federer has mellowed in his open criticism. Becker suggests that Federer's high-profile endorsements—Rolex, Moet & Chandon champagne, Lindt chocolates—force him to maintain a suave, likeable image that hardly leaves any room now for any of his real thoughts ever becoming public.
"The reason Roger is one of the highest-paid athletes of all time is because he's liked by everybody," Becker said. "But think about this—you can't possibly be liked by everybody... He makes good money out of his image, but would he make less if we saw a bit more of his true feelings?"
Becker says that through his interactions with tennis fans he has come to realize that people are yearning for the days when tennis players showed more character on the courts. He feels the tour is "a little too politically correct" now, and that affects TV ratings. Barring a few Andy Murray expletives—directed, always at his own box instead of his opponent—the men's game hardly has any players who provide the kind of color that Boris Becker and John McEnroe did in their time.
Then again, perhaps we can blame the on-court microphones for that one. Who wants a $10,000 cut from their paycheck for letting out a good "fuck you" during the match. Probably not even Federer.