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Expelling Djokovic from the US Open 2020 was correct

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Novak Djokovic
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Expelling Novak Djokovic from US Open was the right call

 

This US Open is different from all others, for many obvious reasons. Today, one much less obvious reason was added to the count: Novak Djokovic, ranked as the best player in the world, was expelled from the tournament.

Why? After losing a game, at least partly because he fell and hurt his left shoulder, Novak Djokovic hit a ball towards the back of the court and inadvertently hit the line umpire in the throat. This latter fell to the ground and had problems breathing for a while, before she walked of the court, a bit shaken but seemingly ok. After some discussion, the chair umpire and the refereed decided to disqualify Djokovic, obviously to polite, but insistent protests from the player himself.

When seeing the images in replay, that of Djokovic clear was unsporting conduct, such that disqualification was the only plausible alternative for the officials, even though Nole didn’t have any intention to actually hurt the umpire, or anyone else for that matter.

Not expelling Djokovic would have meant grating him, because of his status, a more lenient interpretation of the rules than what is applied to other players, something the umpire and the referee were correct to avoid. It must have been difficult, expelling the best player in the world and the absolute favourite to win the tournament, but in the end, the responsibility of the officials is to safeguard the game of tennis, not any individual player, not the TV-audience (in this year’s edition), the sponsors or anyone else.

Moreover, Djokovic, precisely because of his status as the current best-ranked player in the world, has a specific responsibility not express his frustration and anger in improper ways on the court (and outside of it for that matter.) Thousands of young players look up to him, a serious responsibility, not least when you look at the attitude of many players in local tennis clubs around the world.

Tennis is a really frustrating sport, regardless of the level you play at. There is a lot of pressure on you as a player, and, at least in singles, there is nobody to lean on, nobody that can share the burden with you. If things start to go wrong, you double fault, you miss your backhands, you put what should have been a secure point in the net, the pressure inside is devastating. To let it out, people to odd things, they scream, yell, throw rackets, argue with umpires and adversaries. The rules are there to ensure that this frustrations doesn’t cross boundaries, making the game at best makes it unpleasant to be a part of, and at worst can make dangerous for anyone involved.

If someone like Djokovic would have gotten away with letting his frustration out the way he did in New York tonight, and has done, albeit without hurting anyone, also in previous tournaments, it would set a poor example for all those that play on lesser levels, that perhaps look up to Djokovic, and that like him, have problems controlling their emotions when playing tennis.  Djokovic himself knows this, and when looking at the images of his unfortunate gesture, he will probably not disagree too much with the official’s decision.

In spite of this, when looking at the images of the world’s best player tucking his rackets into his bag and getting ready to leave the court of a Grand Slam, even a particular one as this US Open,  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Nole. He loves tennis, he loves winning and he is really, really good at both. If he were frustrated while playing, God only knows what he must feel like now.

 

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