Comment: Novak Djokovic cannot play victim this time and needs to accept responsibility for petulance

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic defaulted from US Open

Not for the first time in his career and not even for the first time in 2020, Novak Djokovic found a way to make a bad situation even worse.

While there is no doubt that Djokovic was unfortunate to strike a line judge with a ball that resulted in his instant default from the US Open, the world No 1 had the opportunity to stand up to his responsibilities to the game, own up to his mistake and gracefully walk away from his latest on-court error.

Yet instead of fronting to his disappointment, fulfilling his media duties and representing his sport in the manner befitting a legend of his stature, Djokovic made a hasty exit from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre as he ran away from his latest controversy.

As was the case when he fronted up the ill-fated Adria Tour that included a players party in a nightclub that contributed to a host of participants contracting the Covid-19 virus, Djokovic was at fault for a serious lack of judgement at an event that poured shame on tennis and now here we are again.

Djokovic suggested he was being victimised when the media coverage lambasted him for his role in organising a tennis event at the peak of a global pandemic and now the snipers are questioning his judgement again after he refused to own his latest controversy.

“He is obviously not thinking particularly clearly now. He should have done the press conference,” former British No 1 Tim Henman told Amazon Prime Sport. “It was a mistake. He didn’t mean to do it, but it is a default, it’s as simple as that.

“In the coming 24 to 48 hours, the team around him are going to play an important part in telling him that he needs to take stock of this. He needs to accept responsibility and apologise.

“There is no excuse for not doing the media and not apologising. He needs to deal with this incident, first and foremost.”

Djokovic’s long conversation with USTA officials appear to see him claiming the decision to default him from the US Open was misguided as the official was not badly hurt in the incident, but that will not reflect well on him as the rules clearly state the correct decision was made.

If this was the first time Djokovic has come close to crossing this precise line on a tennis court, there may be more sympathy for his plight. But a tense exchange with a journalist at the 2016 ATP Finals in London confirms the Serb has form for this kind of thing as lost control of his temper on the court and smashed a ball in anger. 

In his opening match of the tournament against Dominic Thiem, Djokovic was fortunate not be defaulted after smashing the ball into the crowd in anger, but he turned on the media when they asked him about the incident after the game.

“You guys are unbelievable, you’re always picking these kind of things,” he snapped back when asked whether he feared he might be thrown out of the event for hitting the ball in anger.

“It could have been, yes,” he added before sarcastically saying: “It could have snowed in the O2 Arena (indoor), as well, but it didn’t. It is not an issue for me.”

Well, it is an issue now as the red-hot favourite to win the US Open let his temper get the better of him once more as the first set of this match against Pablo Carreno Busta started to turn against him as he lost his serve and paid the ultimate price for failing to control his emotions.

Djokovic released an apology on Instagram after what appeared to be a petulant exit from the Flushing Meadows site, but he should have faced up to the camera and avoided the impression that he wanted to play the role of the victim once again.

In this blockbuster story, Djokovic needs to take a different path and ensure he does the right thing and accept the errors of his ways.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer

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