(Reuters) – Novak Djokovic has proved unbeatable on court this year but Sunday’s dramatic disqualification from the U.S. Open was not the first time questionable judgement has led to unintended consequences for the world number one.
Djokovic exited the Grand Slam after hitting a line judge with the ball and can expect intense criticism in the coming days, similar in nature to what followed his Adria Tour.
The 33-year-old has long shown a fierce desire to be considered a statesman of the game in the same way as Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, his fellow members of the “Big Three”.
The Adria Tour was an altruistic endeavour aimed at raising funds for charity, and the players’ association he launched ahead of the U.S. Open is aimed at providing a platform for his fellow professionals.
Patrick Mouratoglou, the long-time coach of Serena Williams, said Djokovic had perhaps taken on too much off court in addition to trying to extend a 26-match winning streak and bag an 18th Grand Slam.
“Trying to win this U.S. Open was already a huge goal,” Mouratoglou said on Twitter.
“Starting this players association and a campaign in order to convince players to be part of it is a full time job and a lot of extra stress. Nobody can afford to lose focus during a(Grand Slam).”
Sunday’s incident could yet have an impact on the breakaway players body as its success depended, at least in part, on his stature within the game. Federer and Nadal, who both missed the U.S. Open, have voiced opposition to the move.
His apology for the incident on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court was the second time in three months that Djokovic had tendered a public mea culpa.
After much criticism of the Adria Tour, which was held around June with top men’s players in the Balkans, he accepted that organising it had been a mistake.
While live tennis action was a welcome sight during the COVID-19 shutdown, scenes of packed stands, players hugging and posing for pictures and dancing shirtless at a club were jarring despite the event not breaking any local health protocols.
As fate would have it, Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki tested positive for the novel coronavirus after playing in the tournament.
Djokovic found the resulting criticism “malicious” and complained of a witch-hunt against him.
It followed a furor in April after he suggested he would be opposed to vaccination for COVID-19 if it became mandatory to compete on the tour.
In a follow-up statement Djokovic, who also courted controversy when he was seen training at a club in Marbella in May in violation of Spain’s lockdown rules, said he would keep an open mind on vaccination.
He also made a U-turn on his earlier statements that competing at the 2020 U.S. Open would be “impossible” due to strict COVID-19 protocols.
If his many fans had hoped the focus would shift to his imperious form in 2020 once he did arrive in New York, Djokovic had other plans.
On the eve of the tournament he announced he had resigned as the president of the ATP Player Council to launch the Professional Tennis Players Association and questions about the new body duly dominated his media conferences.
Skipping his media obligations on Sunday after his disqualification will cost him up to $20,000 on top of the $250,000 fine already imposed.
While few players were ready to argue against his disqualification, the severity of the fine imposed on Djokovic did not sit well with everyone.
“Am I the only one that thinks 260k fine is a bit steep?” American Ryan Harrison wrote on Twitter.
“That’s what entire teams get fined for tampering incidents and illegal PED use.
“This was accidental…”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)