Novak Djokovic’s year of many messes3 min read . Updated: 09 Sep 2020, 02:37 PM IST
The world no. 1 has been caught in a series of controversies in 2020, the latest resulting him being defaulted out of the US Open
While the rest of the world may want to cancel 2020 for obvious reasons, for Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, the covid-19 pandemic is only one of several mishaps that have made this year especially miserable for him. From his brazen misconduct with an umpire at the Australian Open in February to the recent fiasco over inadvertently hitting a line judge at the US Open, Djokovic has been in the limelight this year for all the wrong reasons—although tennis watchers aren’t too surprised.
Outbursts of rage and frustration on court are hardly unusual in the men’s and women’s game. From John McEnroe’s antics in the 1980s to Serena Williams’ catastrophic loss of temper at the 2019 US Open finals against the rising Japanese player Naomi Osaka, examples abound. But, as the professional game has become more exacting by the year, the penalties have also been made tougher. Djokovic learnt this truth the hard way at the 2020 Australian Open final against Austrian Dominic Thiem. Not once but twice did he tap umpire Damien Dumusois on the shoe to express his discontent with penalties imposed on him for repeated time violations. Although he escaped a penalty of $30,000 for “physical abuse" of the umpire, as per the rulebook, the incident did little to repair the torrid image the World No. 1 has carved for himself.
Just about a month went by before Djokovic lived up to his nickname “The Joker" when he made a remark that lost him some fans during a raging pandemic. As the world plunged into suffering and grief, struggling for find a vaccine to control the novel coronavirus, Djokovic let loose yet another verbal salvo: “Personally, I am opposed to vaccination," he said. “I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel." From a star adored by legions of fans to joining the anti-vaxxer camp—it was quite a fall.
In spite of a lockdown and escalating infections, Djokovic decided to celebrate the coming of summer with an Adria Tour, organized by him. Although he later went on to admit his mistake of organizing a tournament when even Wimbledon had suspended its championship for the first time since World War II, at the time, he didn’t see any problem with inviting his tennis bros—Alexander Zverv, Grigor Dmitrov, and Thiem, among others—to participate in the weeks-long tour. All the players openly flouted social distancing norms during it, and even went dancing at a nightclub. In the end, Djokovic, his wife Jelena, and several others were rewarded with covid-19 infections.
In spite of these setbacks, Djokovic’s ambition didn’t seem to take a beating. He resigned as the head of the Association of Tennis Professionals’ Player Council to form his breakaway faction— Professional Tennis Players’ Association. The decision couldn’t have come at a worst time, when the world of professional sports needs unity and cohesion. Although Djokovic belatedly rebutted accusations of leaving the women players out by claiming that he has started speaking to them, a large section of the tennis circuit isn’t pleased with his move, and new fault lines have broken out in the world of tennis.
On the heels of the controversial bid to create his autonomous association, Djokovic landed in yet another soup. During a fourth round of the ongoing US Open, he once again lost his cool—and the match in the process. Frustrated with his sloppy play against the Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic took a ball out of his pocket at the end of a point and lobbed it behind him. He didn’t mean to, but the ball hit a line judge in the throat, throwing her off her feet. After a brief consultation with the umpires, Djokovic accepted he should be defaulted from the tournament, and penalized his prize money.