My Early Thoughts on Novak Djokovic’s Exit from the 2020 US Open

This tweet in some ways did not age well, but in another sense Eddie Felson is expressing frustration at not handling his own status as the best straight pool player in the world as he should have, It should give a sense of what I was expecting when the match began. Namely, I thought Djokovic would put on a virtuoso display versus a fine but inferior opponent.

The 2020 US Open was turned on its head today. Novak Djokovic was a HEAVY favorite to win his 4th US Open title and 18th overall major. It was a stunning and strange turn of events. Novak Djokovic’s public statement hit the right chords in my mind as he did not protest being defaulted and expressed remorse. The video below shows a ball striking a lineswoman in the throat. Novak Djokovic did not rifle the ball. He did not physically threaten anyone, but he did clearly hit the ball out of disgust, and it injured someone.

Strange Events Have Happened

Anyone who has been around tennis where scores are being kept has seen some strange stuff happen. I will recount a few that I have heard of or seen:

  1. John McEnroe destroyed his orange juice in Stockholm. He and Jimmy Connors had heated exchanges at Wimbledon, the French Open, Wembley, and Chicago.
  2. When coaching in 2004, a player for another school trailed 0-6, 1-5 and tried to fight a player I was coaching. The situation was quickly resolved, but it was a mess.
  3. Andre Agassi hit a ball at a lineswoman and luckily missed her after losing to Patrick Rafter in 2001. Agassi also spit on the chair umpire’s pant leg at the 1990 US Open.
  4. A friend who was an accomplished junior player recounted a tale of a tournament final in which his opponent would not give him the tennis balls so he could serve after grabbing a break lead. He chased his opponent around the court to get the tennis balls in a Looney Tunesesque scene.
  5. I played someone once who launched his racquet over the fence after losing a point. He nearly hit a child and a parent who were in the park near the courts.
  6. I have seen a lot of balls hit into fences over the years. I would be lying if I said I had never done so during my tennis playing years of 1985 to 2020.
  7. I lamentably can say that in 2019 I was serving in a league I play in at 4-5 in the 1st set and a man openned the gate and walked across the court mid point. Tennis norms say that he should not have done that, but I should not have asked him over and over again what he was thinking.

I bring these examples up because as much as I am 100% in support of the decision the US Open made, I also think Djokovic’s actions were pretty understandable while also being clearly wrong. If I was livid over a silly league match being disrupted at 43-years of age with nothing on the line, it doesn’t take much for me to comprehend how someone could be upset about losing 3 set points, injuring his shoulder, and needing to fight to remain in a set that could/should have already been won. Djokovic was not as out of control as Denis Shapovalov’s September 4th racquet destruction (see below). Djokovic hit a human being in the throat (certainly not on purpose), and that is the key difference.

He had to be defaulted, and what he did was also very human and understandable at a level most tennis players have to know. Tim Mayotte, a good friend of our site, tweeted the following:

Novak Djokovic is not formally protesting being ousted from the US Open. He sounds contrite. To echo Mayotte, I do think we tennis players at every level should learn something from today’s events. I will end with Novak’s own words.

I remember watching Novak Djokovic practice at the 2009 Masters Cincinnati event and thinking I had never seen someone hit the ball as cleanly.

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