US Open Tennis: Where to now for Novak Djokovic?

Tennis legend John McEnroe believes Novak Djokovic’s brain snap on Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday will change the course of his career for good — the only question is how he deals with it.

Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open yesterday for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball during his fourth round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

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The world No. 1 wasn’t looking where he hit the ball after being broken to go down 5-6 in the first set and line judge Laura Clark couldn’t get out of the way.

Although Djokovic pleaded his case to remain in the tournament — one he was a raging favourite to win — organisers were left with no choice but to default him.

The 33-year-old has always been the odd one out among the Big Three alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The latter two are universally loved but Djokovic has never attracted the same affection from punters outside his rabid Serbian base.

That much was evident when he was booed relentlessly during last year’s Wimbledon final against the Fed Express — ultimately disappointing the crowd by winning an epic five-setter.

McEnroe says Djokovic will forever be the “bad guy” after Monday’s moment of madness, and he has to choose whether to embrace that role or not.

“The pressure just got to him, I think. A lot’s been going on off the court, it’s obviously affected him,” McEnroe said. “And now, whether he likes it or not, he’s going to be the bad guy the rest of his career. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.

“I didn’t say he couldn’t recover. If he embraces that role, I think he could recover, absolutely.

“He’s chasing history, he’s trying to pass Rafa and Roger, we all know that. He’s younger. He’s got a lot of things going for him, but this is obviously a stain that he’s not going to be able to erase, whether he likes it or not.

“It’s emotionally how he’s going to handle it. It’s not about the physical part and him getting older.”

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Djokovic was glad to hear Clark was recovering.Source:AFP

Before being expelled from Flushing Meadows, Djokovic was a raging favourite to claim his 18th grand slam title and close within one of Nadal (19) and two of men’s record-holder Federer (20). Overtaking his biggest rivals has long motivated the Serb to reach incredible heights.

Djokovic has always refused to speak ill of fans who boo him. After Wimbledon last year, for example, he simply smiled and said every time he heard the crowd chanting for Roger, he pretended in his mind they were actually shouting “Novak”.

Regardless of what you think of his left-field beliefs or behaviour, there’s no doubting Djokovic’s mental strength. How else could someone constantly cope with crowds cheering for his opponents and still win 17 majors?

If he chooses to play the villain, it’s hard to see him having too much difficulty adjusting and you would think his level of tennis would remain relatively unaffected.

The question is whether he even wants to be, as McEnroe said, the “bad guy”. Djokovic has never sought to antagonise tennis fans and his reluctance to complain about his on-court reception suggests he has no desire to set himself up as this “me against the world” figure.

In his apology for striking the lineswoman, Djokovic said he needs “to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being”.

While it’s easy to be cynical of such a statement given his litany of missteps this year, maybe Djokovic really does want to use this episode as a learning curve to become someone tennis fans can at least respect, if not love.

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