Novak Djokovic: US Open default adds to damaging 2020

Novak Djokovic’s year may have passed without defeat on court so far, however 2020 has damaged the world No 1’s reputation and tainted his legacy.

Since turning professional in 2003, the Serb has set records and achieved accolades that few others have been able to do.

Djokovic has won 80 singles titles, including 17 Grand Slams, he has completed a career Grand Slam and is the only player with titles at all nine ATP Masters 1000s events.

  • Djokovic out of US Open for striking ball at line judge
  • US Open 2020: Men’s Draw

At the age of 33, he is well-poised to potentially eclipse the two men who have more Grand Slam titles than him; Rafael Nadal (19) and Roger Federer (20).

The Australian Open in January marked his 17th major victory and, prior to that, he helped Serbia win the inaugural ATP Cup.

Yet throughout his career, an ongoing narrative has been the public’s lack of adoration and warmth for him, in comparison to the likes of Nadal, Andy Murray and Federer.

Now, after a series of misjudged calls and incidents in 2020, Djokovic looks set to continue to struggle to receive the love he craves…

The Adria Tour

In June, Djokovic organised the Adria Tour which was a competition designed to be held in cities across the Balkans.

The tour was to take place in Belgrade, Zadar, Montenegro and Bankja Luka in June and July and its line-up included some of the world’s best; Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki.

Once the competition had started, it became clear that it painted a vastly different picture to other sporting events taking place at that time.

A lack of social distancing and no masks for spectators were shown in videos on social media, plus the players themselves were filmed dancing and hugging together in a nightclub.

Incredible to see fans in Belgrade watching tennis with no social distancing. It is as if Coronavirus has passed? How was this managed and why no concern for public social distancing and face masks. I know the figures in Serbia but why are they able to do this?

Dimitrov’s positive test was the catalyst for its eventual cancellation and the fact Djokovic and his wife returned to Serbia before being tested, did not sit well with many looking on.

Dan Evans, speaking before the Schroders Battle of the Brits which took place shortly afterwards in Roehampton, said Djokovic should be setting a better example. At the time, he was the ATP Player Council president as well as being the world No 1.

“Put it like this, I don’t think he should be planning a players’ party and dancing all over each other and then two very good tennis players have tested positive. He should feel some responsibility in his event and how it’s transpired,” said Evans.

Nick Kyrgios, who himself has been involved in controversy throughout his career, was vocal on social media throughout the competition.

The Australian made a number of statements including one that he felt Djokovic “went missing, when he was supposed to show some leadership and humility”.

US Open hesitation

As the global situation began to entertain the thought of the ATP and WTA Tours returning, the USTA sought to develop a best-possible plan of action for its Grand Slam event to take place.

As conversations were had regarding social-distancing measures and regulations for players, Djokovic took part in a drawn-out decision-making process as to whether or not he would play.

It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited.

Djokovic decided to compete at the US Open

His thought that the protocols were “extreme” was made public and that he was opposed to travelling with just one supporting team member.

After these statements in mid-June, the confirmation he would play came in the middle of August.

“It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited,” he said.

The Professional Tennis Players Association

On the eve of the US Open, Djokovic stepped down from his role as president of the ATP Council to pursue another venture.

The world No 1 is at the forefront of creating a new breakaway player union; the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).

After a meeting, an image was taken on court at Flushing Meadows and it showed the court full of players who support the idea. There were no female players in the image.

After yesterday’s successful meeting, we are excited to announce the beginning of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA). The first player only association in tennis since 1972. #PTPA pic.twitter.com/q8H0aOdqDl

Federer, Nadal and Murray all stated their opposition to forming the group.

Nadal tweeted: “The world is living a difficult and complicated situation. I personally believe these are times to be calm and work all of us together in the same direction. It is time for unity, not for separation.”

Federer added: “I agree @RafaelNadal. These are uncertain and challenging times, but I believe it’s critical for us to stand united as players, and as a sport, to pave the best way forward.”

It has since been said female players are being approached, although during the US Open Britain’s Johanna Konta revelaed she was not one of them and “did not know anything of it”.

Walking away from the incident

On Sunday, after losing serve in the 11th game of the opening set during his US Open fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic hit a ball in frustration and struck a female line judge.

After the ball was struck, it was immediately clear she was hurt, and the Serb rushed over to check on her condition.

It’s just terribly unfortunate because we know how crucial this Grand Slam is for him. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were not here. He’s on 17 Grand Slams right now; he’s desperately trying to close the gap. He was trying to take full advantage of those two not being here. Of course there’s a lot of other youngsters in the draw that could trouble him. But it’s hugely important in terms of the history and where he wants his career to be at the end of his time. I just don’t know where it leaves him, I’m not quite sure how he’s going to handle this situation.

Former British No 1 Annabel Croft

The 17-time Grand Slam champion was subsequently defaulted from the competition. He left the site immediately and did not speak to anyone from the media.

Djokovic’s decision to not face the music that evening was criticised by both Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, who himself was disqualified from Wimbledon 25 years ago for hitting a ball girl with a ball during a doubles match.

Unbelievable that @DjokerNole has been defaulted. This was the correct decision under the rules regardless of intent or not. Novak should have stayed for the press conference & apologise. We must take responsibility for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is.

“We must take responsibility for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is,” Rusedski stated on social media and Henman added on Amazon Prime that Djokovic was “compounding the error by running away”.

A lengthy statement from the world No 1 did arrive on Instagram later that evening, but for John McEnroe, that was not enough.

“You got to man up. It made no sense to me,” he told ESPN. “In the past I’ve seen him take responsibility when he’s blown it. In this case it makes it even worse. So what if he apologised on Twitter… that’s not good enough.”

I feel that Novak had too much on his plate: trying to win this US Open was already a huge goal. Starting this player’s association and a campaign in order to convince players to be part of it is a full time job & a lot of extra stress. Nobody can afford to lose focus during a GS

The rest of 2020…

In his statement, Djokovic said he will look to use this moment as a lesson.

“As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being,” he said.

“I apologise to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry.”

With the type of tennis Djokovic was playing on court, he remains in a healthy position moving into the clay-court swing and the French Open, which he won in 2016.

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