With the Austrian Dominic Thiem winning in an unbelievable comeback , a new champion emerged in the US Open this year, one who has never won a Grand Slam event before. A disappointed Novak Djokovic must have seen this happen from the confines of wherever he is after having had to leave this tennis major on a disastrous note.
Indeed with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer having preferred to skip this event this time, it was expected that the Serb would find his way to glory for his 18th Grand Slam title. The pressure of expectations was supposed to be less burdensome on him but it was another devil in the mind that ended his run, so to say! A moment of madness and all was over.
Djokovic could not have believed his eyes when he saw his stray swipe of the ball, after losing his serve to the Spanish Pablo Carreno Busta would find the throat of a line judge with such accuracy! It was actually a manifestation of his frustration of having lost a key point that was on display before empty stands but never would he have imagined the cost that he had had to bear ultimately for that touch of indiscretion!
If only the direction of that hit had been a few inches here or there and he could have thrown a sigh of relief and got on with his goal of winning another title but the ball had to strike the lady with such fierceness that she fell with a scream. Out came the Grand Slam rules to make Djokovic the culprit and he was disqualified straightaway for unsportsman-like conduct. Yes, the line-judge walked away with pain but the damage had been done thanks to an act that was so uncharacteristic of a World number one.
Now, Djokovic is not a hard headed man really. He showed it when he rushed to the injured official out of concern. And then again he is not the first player to get into this sort of muddle. There have been 11 others before him, the last being Nick Kyrgois, the Australian player, who hurled a chair onto the court last year in the Italian Open in a fit of anger.
Anger and frustration are but part of any sportsperson in a contest. Some players show it in their own game, giving that extra punch to the strokes or smashes and get away satisfied but the danger is when it becomes an unwanted showpiece. Djokovic that way did not mean to hurt anyone.
He had earlier found the Advertisement board once as a target but who would have thought a blind shot would result in such a disastrous result. Not only did he lose the $250,000 he had gained till then for reaching the fourth round but other penalties too that followed his actions, including not attending the mandatory press briefing.
The money part may not be a big dent for this super-rich tennis maestro but his reputation had taken a beating for sure. Sitting at the highest pedestal in terms of fame and popularity can never be easy. You are not just a role model but perhaps considered a paragon of virtue.
Imagine Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kolhi or M.S. Dhoni getting caught in such unwanted moments! The repercussions can be manifold. With an array of achievements and a man whose brand of tennis made him a sell-out object in any major tennis event, the Serb had a standing that cannot be associated with the kind of act he did for the instant disqualification he was slapped with.
Djokovic had just come out of another unsavoury experience with his Adria Tour earlier and now this. Perhaps he could have undone the damage a trifle had he attended the press conference and may be offered his version of the incident and laid down his apologies. But he just stomped out of the stadium and that for some one of his stature seemed unbecoming.
In many ways this will be a lesson not only for him but for all in this serious business of sports in general. Maybe Djokovic would return a lot more chastened even as he sharpens his play to ensure his career aim of being one of the best in the sport remains on course.
Meanwhile fans of the Serb were quick to recall what looked like a similar incident involving Roger Federer in the Australian Open years back when the Swiss inadvertently hit a little ball boy with the ball. That the spectators and everyone around laughed it away perhaps reflected the mood then. Things at the Arthur Ashe stadium that way were a lot serious. Just as well that there were no spectators around. Else the flow of emotions would have been far heavier.
All said, a black day for Djokovic, and worse at a time when another Grand Slam title seemed well within his reach. Number 20, the number of Grand Slam titles that Federer had won, is Djokovic's aim and well no matter what unfolded, he still has the fire and game to inspire him to realise that golden dream.