If you watch the video of Novak Djokovic hitting a ball into a line judge at the US Open, the replays will give you a good indication of how shocked he was once he had done it, but by this stage, it was too little too late. The act had been committed. One can be certain that Djokovic didn’t mean to cause any harm or physical pain to Laura Clark, who was running the line in the round of 16 US Open singles clash, but he does have a tendency to react strongly when frustration arises as it did after he lost the point to Pablo Carreño Busta.
The Serb’s poor conflict management has constantly landed him in hot water. This time, it has cost him the chance of winning the US Open and getting within two Grand Slams of Roger Federer’s all-time record. And when you consider that the latest tennis French Open odds from Betfair have Rafa Nadal as favourite at 5/6 to win in Paris, you do think that this incident may have cost Djokovic the chance of ever surpassing Federer and Nadal’s respective Grand Slam records.
Djokovic disqualified from the US Open for hitting a line judge in
the face with a tennis ball pic.twitter.com/mpafwm1ODL
— Dan Walker
But you did feel like this type of incident was only ever waiting to happen. Indeed, the warning signs have been there for some time.
Who can forget the Miami Open in 2015 when Djokovic received a warning for what the umpire called ‘scaring a ball boy.’ The incident looked a lot worse than that in real-time and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Serb took his frustration out on the young chap offering him a towel, rather than merely frightening him. There was a heartfelt apology after that and the world seemed to move on.
However, if you also take into consideration all the various unsavoury arguments with umpires over the years that Djokovic has had, you’ll begin to connect the dots and realise that he is a highly-strung guy.
The moment that #1 Novak Djokovic knew that his #USOpen and his undefeated 2020
season were over. pic.twitter.com/uwd5fbXKb1
— Ben Rothenberg
(@BenRothenberg) September 6,
Most geniuses are and Djokovic is certainly full of brilliance, but he is only ever one moment of adversity away from snapping.
Regrettably, the incident with the line judge at Flushing Meadows has the potential to define the latter part of his career and he’ll be desperate to find a way to atone once the dust has settled. Winning a few more Grand Slams would go a long way in helping people
forget but he’ll be under pressure to do that, and when he feels the heat, we tend to see the worst of him.
These next few months may be better spent trying to centre himself with the help of a sports psychologist before he tries to claim the title of greatest ever player to have played the game. After all, there is life left in him yet at 33 years old and Federer’s record is within touching distance. If he is to be the greatest, then this powder-keg persona needs to go and be replaced by a competitor who is able to better internalize the frustrations of professional tennis. If that happens and the world sees a new Novak Djokovic at the start of 2021, then redemption will be easily attained.