It all looked to be in the bag for Novak Djokovic at the US Open. With neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal in the field of entrants, the Serbian was the heavy favourite to win an 18th Grand Slam and close the gap on Federer’s record of 20.
But we all know what happened next. Djokovic made headline news across the world when he was sensationally defaulted from the tournament at the quarter-final stage. Having just lost his serve to Pablo Carreño Busta, Djokovic struck in anger which hit one of the line judges in the throat. As it happened in real time there was a sense of finality, and despite the many ensuing minutes of pleading from Djokovic, the tournament officials were left with no choice but to default Djokovic and give the win to his Spanish opponent.
Djokovic left Flushing Meadows straight away, without fulfilling his media duties and without offering a public apology to the line judge. He did later express his apologies and regrets in an Instagram post, but in the eyes of many, Djokovic’s reputation has been dealt a shattering blow.
He has long been a player with something of a fiery temper on court, with a tendency for hitting stray balls in frustration, to the peril of line judges, umpires and spectators alike. This latest incident is seen by many as the result of Djokovic failing to face up to his own temper. Whenever he has been questioned by the media about his on-court behaviour, he has usually dismissed such suggestions or laughed them off. But now the 33-year-old has paid the price for his risky acts of frustration.
There is no suggestion that Djokovic intended to hit the line judge, but the risk with hitting balls when not in play is that you leave yourself open to accidents happening. It was reminiscent of an incident at Queen’s Club in 2012 when David Nalbandian kicked a line judge, thinking the advertising board in front of the judge would absorb the blow. When one lets frustration rule their actions, these things can happen.
Now, Djokovic will be on a quest to make amends at the next Grand Slam, the French Open. The latest tennis French Open betting places Djokovic as joint second favourite, behind clay court supremo Nadal. Never mind winning the tournament, Djokovic must show that he has learned from this recent mistake, and show calmer body language on the court.
Many of his fans will stick by Djokovic through thick and thin, and there were plenty of people who felt he was treated harshly for what in the end amounted to an accident. But rules are rules, and Djokovic felt the full force of them, letting down many of his own fans, and tennis fans in general with his actions.
The US Open was seen almost as a gimme for the Serbian, with a weaker field than usual and Djokovic’s excellent record on hard courts making him the clear favourite to win the tournament and enjoy a remarkable 18th Grand Slam title. Instead, it all ended in disgrace, and Djokovic has much to do to restore his reputation and prove that he can come back from this setback.