10 stages of a man who knows he has screwed up
"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty."
For Novak Djokovic, there goes a golden chance to clinch Grand Slam number 18. The year that started so wonderfully in Melbourne has descended into a complete shit-fit of Covid-19, ill-advised high fives, fierce blow-back from the public and a US Open disqualification.
At least he didn't get a tennis ball to the gullet.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) September 7, 2020
But how did we get here? How has Novak Djokovic shot up to the top of all the trending charts [until Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood came along] and become a reviled figure.
Here is the story of a good year, gone very, very bad.
"Great job man... You’ve made yourself famous. Well done"
Flash back to January of this year and Novak Djokovic was battling with himself as much as Dominic Thiem [his opponent] and Damien Dumusois [the umpire].
The Serbian had won the first set of the Australian Open final but Thiem was battling back in the second. In the ninth game of that set, which he would lose 6-4, Djokovic double-faulted and was then given a code violation for dawdling over another serve.
As he stormed back to his seat, he tapped the foot of Dumusois as he sat in his umpire's chair and made the sarcastic remark about him now being famous. That would not be the last of his outburst - "Shut the f*** up!" he later yelled at a section of fans that were booing him - but he dug deep again and won his 17th grand slam title in five gruelling sets.
Shortly after midnight, at the Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic cradled the Norman Brookes trophy [the eighth of his career] and reflected that he would have to taper off his playing commitments and pour all his focus into peaking for majors.
"It is my ambition to win as many of the grand slam titles as I can. It’s professionally what matters most to me."
Djokovic turned 33 when the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was at its' peak. He wants to spend more time with his wife and two young children. But he also knows time is against him as he strives to be the greatest player in the men's game.
"I pray for everyone's full recovery"
In a naïve attempt to support tennis, and his fellow pros, in Eastern Europe, Djokovic helped organise Adria Tour events in Serbia and Croatia during the summer. There was talk of strict protocols being followed and of testing procedures, but all most people were seeing were pictures of players, and their friends and families, hanging out and partying when the tennis wrapped up.
Sadly, and unsurprisingly, several of those that attended those events tested positive for Covid-19. Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, travelled home from Zadar after the second event only to find they had tested positive but were asymptomatic.
"We were wrong and it was too soon," Djokovic admitted. "I can't express enough how sorry I am for this and every case of infection."
Fellow tennis professional Nick Kyrgios called the events "bone-headed" and he was not alone in that view. 'Nole' was already up against it.
What he needed was for tennis to return, and on a large scale so there could be actual and meaningful health procedures put in place. Tournaments were staged in the USA and Djokovic was one of the first to commit to playing the US Open.
Thiem was going too, as was three-time major winner Andy Murray but there would be no Rafael Nadal [18 majors] or Roger Federer [20 majors]. Both men felt it was not safe, or correct, to travel to Flushing Meadows at this time.
For the tennis fans, a shame. For Djokovic, a potential procession to his fourth US Open crown.
"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty"
Dzumhur. Edmund. Struff.
In his opening three rounds at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic was on the march. He went through two opponents in straight sets and, after losing a first set tie-break to Kyle Edmund, he dispatched the Briton with the loss of just nine more games.
He was expected to steam-roll over world No.27 Pablo Carreno Busta on his way to the quarter final. As it turned out, Carreno Busta was up for a scrap. By now, most of us will have seen Djokovic bean an unsuspecting lines-woman with a pelted tennis ball but many may have missed an absorbing 55 minutes of tennis that led to it.
Carreno Busta gave as good as he got and though he was behind by most tracking metrics [winners, aces, first serves, etc.], the final point of the soon-to-be curtailed game was the most crucial. Djokovic had squandered four break points in the first half. His opponent had not converted one break opportunity that came his way, too, but he gleefully took the second.
He fizzed a forehand winner that put Djokovic 6-5 down and needing to immediately break back to salvage the first set. Up against it, in a major he felt was there for the taking, Djokovic swatted the ball back down the court and his face dropped like a cinder block as he saw it take out the match official.
Here are the 10 stages of a man who has just screwed up, knows it and is desperately trying to hope he can turn back time:
Won't be needing THAT anyway!
Oh NO! Did that just?
F***! It did! Oh s***!
Did I hit it THAT hard?
Oh... God... she's fallen down
Hello darkness, my old friend...
It'll be oka... what is that SOUND she's making?!
I better go do something
Please, please, please get up! Oh God help me
After ascertaining that the lines-woman was okay, and offering his apology, the fighter in Djokovic turned his mind to how he could keep playing. How about a game or a set penalty? He could live with that.
The match referee made the call, however, and the No.1 seed was disqualified. By 'causing harm' to someone on the court, Djokovic left himself open to the rule-book being fizzed back at him.
"You're going to default me?" he incredulously asked. "My career, my Grand Slam? She didn’t need hospital."
Livid with the situation, and with himself, he shook hands with whoever was having it and stalked off. He was not up for a 30-minute grilling by the press so loaded up his car and got out of there. Not ideal but, again, understandable. A follow-up apology showed up on Instagram after his pulse had slowed
'This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines-person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK.'
His actions were rash and he will have to live with them for a long time to come. Grand Slam number 18 will have to wait and you can bet a part of him would love to throw himself straight back into action.
He has a temper and he often has that swagger that champions carry, but he is not evil incarnate.
One hopes he takes some proper time out after this - a real break away from the tennis circuit - for a few weeks and comes back with a longer fuse.