“Innovation in tennis… I think it’s necessary” – Djokovic

The Serb calls for more players to be able to make a living from the sport

Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2024 Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2024

Novak Djokovic, the 24-time Grand Slam champion and the most successful player in tennis history, has called on tennis administrators to take urgent steps to make the game more innovative and attract younger audiences.

The Serb was speaking at Wimbledon after beating Australia’s Alexei Popyrin in four sets on Saturday to advance to the fourth round. Djokovic was asked about the importance of the best-five-set format, of which he said he remains a major proponent. But the Serb did give a long insight as to why tennis needs to do more for its players and to attract younger fans.

“In terms of innovation in tennis, in our sport, I think it’s necessary,” the seven-time Wimbledon champion said. “I think we have to, other than Slams, figure out how to attract young audience. I think tennis, on one hand, is in a good place, but at the same time when we look at Formula 1, for example, and what they have done in terms of marketing, in terms of growth of the sport, in terms of the races around the world and how popular they are, I think we need to do a better job on our respective tours.”

“On a club level, tennis is endangered. If we don’t do something about it.. paddle, pickleball in States, they’re going to convert all the tennis clubs into paddle and pickle ball.”

Djokovic, who has taken a leading role in the formation of the Professional Tennis Players Association, cited data that tennis is one of the top four most popular sports in the world but much lower ranked when it comes to commercialization of the sport.

“I think our tours need to do better. And we are lucky to be very historic and very global sport. But I think one of the studies that was done by PTPA three, four years ago, showed that tennis is the third or fourth most popular sport in the world, most watched sport in the world, along with cricket. Number one is obviously football, or soccer as you call it in States. Second one is basketball. Then it’s tennis and cricket. But tennis is number 9 or 10 on the list of all sports in terms of using its popularity, commercializing or capitalizing on that. I think there is a huge space for growth. That we are quite fractioned as a sport. So there’s quite a bit of things I think for us to really collectively look at and try to improve it.”

“I think we are still doing a very poor job there” – Djokovic on prize money at the lower levels

The 37-year-old, who has played an important role in the increase of prize money at the lower levels of the sport, added that a lot more needs to be done to make sure that more number of players can make a good living out of the sport.

“We need to grow the number of players that live from this sport. Very rarely do I see in the media that you guys are writing about the fact that you have only 350 or 400 players, both men, women, singles, doubles, across the board who live from this sport on this planet. That’s for me deeply concerning. Yes, we talk about the Grand Slam winner wins this or that. Then it’s always the focus on the grand prize. But what about the base level? I think we are still doing a very poor job there, very poor job. Tennis is a very global sport and it’s loved by millions of children that pick up a racquet and want to play. But we don’t make it accessible. We don’t make it so affordable. Especially in countries like mine that doesn’t have a strong federation, that has Grand Slam or history or big budgets. I think collectively we all have to come together and understand how to maintain the sport’s, let’s say, foundation or create a new foundation, a cornerstone of really what tennis is about, which is the base level, right, the club level.”

Djokovic also touched upon the issue of tennis courts being taken over and replaced by padel and pickleball courts in many cities and said this was a concerning factor for him.

“Now we have the paddle or padel, as you call it in the States, that is growing and emerging. People kind of have fun with it and say, but tennis is tennis. Tennis is the king or queen of all the racquet sports, that’s true. But on a club level, tennis is endangered. If we don’t do something about it, as I said, globally or collectively, paddle, pickleball in States, they’re going to convert all the tennis clubs into paddle and pickle ball because it’s just more economical. You have one tennis court. You can build three paddle courts on one tennis court. You do the simple math. It’s just much more financially viable for an owner of a club to have those courts.”

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