Comment: Novak Djokovic under fire after controversial final stand at Tokyo Olympics
Cue the latest inquest into the most polarising sporting icons we have ever seen.
As Novak Djokovic walked away from the Tokyo Olympics without even a bronze medal to soothe his wounded pride, the manner of his defeat against Pablo Carreno Busta left many questioning whether this great winner had again forgotten how to lose gracefully.
The clip of the world No 1 angrily throwing his racket into the stands and narrowly missing the few sitting inside a near-empty stadium instantly went viral among the tennis community, as did his angry lashing of the Olympic rings printed on the net as he lost control of his emotions in alarming fashion.
Such has been the imperious form shown by Djokovic in 2021 that he has not had to swallow the bitter taste of defeat too often of late and that may explain why he couldn’t cope with a semi-final loss against Alexander Zverev on Friday and a 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3 against Carreno Busta a day later.
Arguably the most controversial decision made by Djokovic on a crazy day saw him pull out of the mixed doubles bronze medal match with Nina Stojanovic, denying his partner a chance to claim a medal in what many viewed as a reaction to his back-to-back defeat in singles matches.
Djokovic later suggested he pulled out of the mixed doubles due to being “physically and mentally exhausted” and given that Simone Biles was hailed as a hero for pulling out of her gymnastics events at the Tokyo Olympics after citing mental health issues, criticism of the world No 1’s decision to withdraw from his match needs to be tempered with some level of caution.
Yet former British No 1 Annabel Croft suggested Djokovic’s surly attitude on the court in Tokyo did not leave a positive impression for a player who headed to the Olympics striving to add a fourth leg to a potential ‘Golden Slam’ after his victories in the Australian Open, French Open and at Wimbledon this year.
“It was an interesting scenario in that final set,” declared Eurosport and discovery+ tennis expert Croft.
“He missed a volley, he’s down a break already and the frustration just boiled over. He smashed his racket up against the net post, gets a warning. He does a good job of completely annihilating that racquet! It’s almost splintered!
“Then chucks the racket into the crowd, well there’s not a crowd but somebody standing quite close by. It wasn’t in frustration.
“Carreno Busta hadn’t even seen him do it but his team behind him were asking him why he didn’t get a warning for putting that racket into the stands. I think it was almost a little bit of needle bearing in mind what I’ve just said about the history between these two.
“He was clearly trying to get the umpire to give him another warning. Who knows whether that would have meant disqualification again or what have you.
“So it was quite an interesting moment and showed a lot of tension between the two of them and unfortunately for Djokovic he couldn’t contain his emotions out there and it was Carreno Busta who came through.”
Croft also questioned Djokovic’s decision to pull out of the mixed doubled and hand the Australian pair of Ashleigh Barty and John Peers the bronze medal.
“I’m really surprised,” she added. “I mean that was a very brutal tennis match, he was on court for nearly three hours, but there wasn’t any particular sign that there was any issue there.
“Obviously his partner [Nina] Stojanovic, this is heart-breaking for her because she would have done anything to play this match and potentially for her own personal glory. Going for a medal would have been something really special for her. I would just say it’s a heartbreak for his partner.”
The social media debate on Djokovic’s tantrums were divided very much down familiar lines, with the Serbian’s fanatical supporters refusing to allow any negative comments about their hero to pass, while fans of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal simply posted images of their icons with gold medals from previous Olympic triumphs.
Djokovic has vowed to return for another shot at Olympic glory at Paris 2024 and maybe then he will have the last laugh, yet this was another moment that highlighted the greatest winners in sport reminded us that he simply doesn’t know how to accept defeat.
Watch every unmissable moment of Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics
‘Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer always accepted defeat better than Novak Djokovic’, claims former star
A retired ATP star has weighed in on the GOAT debate and claimed “the true champion is seen in defeat”
Why Novak Djokovic’s young protégé Miomir Kecmanovic is a player to watch in 2024
Kecmanovic may only be ranked at No 55 in the current ATP list, but Kecmanovic looks ready to take his career to the next level.
Tennis legend backs Coco Gauff to win 2024 Wimbledon in Carlos Alcaraz comparison
A tennis legend would be surprised if Coco Gauff does not win another Grand Slam title next year.
Italian tennis legends and media forced into rapid backtrack after brutal Jannik Sinner criticism
Sinner’s decision to pull out of Italy’s Davis Cup squad for the Group Stage Finals in September was widely crticised by the Italian media
Carlos Alcaraz’s coach makes admission about watching ‘outrageous’ Novak Djokovic
Carlos Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero has spoken about watching Novak Djokovic perform.
Renowned coach offers to make Emma Raducanu ‘bulletproof’ and help her win ‘again and again’
A coach who has worked with some huge names has made Emma Raducanu a bold offer.
Iga Swiatek’s praise for ‘undisputed leader’ Ashleigh Barty as she opens up about ‘great loss for the sport’
Iga Swiatek discusses how Ashleigh Barty’s retirement affected her career.
Novak Djokovic’s former coach predicts how long the Serbian can remain at the top level
Novak Djokovic’s former coach has discussed how long he can keep going and Jimmy Connors’ title record.
Eight players who served 500+ aces during 2023 ATP season with one big server in a class of his own
Your top ace servers for the 2023 ATP Tour season…
WATCH: Italy’s Davis Cup celebrations as hero Jannik Sinner reserves special praise for one team member
Jannik Sinner’s heartwarming message to Matteo Berrettini.