The Djokovic Default

Happy Labor Day from the States (SoCal for you American honks). Currently, our weather temps remain high as fires continue to engulf the countryside, wildlife and human civilization (which sounds so ironic at this point: human civilization — ha ha). Not good.

So how about this tournament, the second major of 2020, a year that’s put so much normalcy into default.

Then again, what is normal? We have virus and contagious disease all the time (pre and post 2020). Perhaps not at this level, enough to shut-down large gatherings, schools and myriad business operations. But to think we’ve been a healthy people with healthy approaches to life, business, etc. is bullshit. The poor and disadvantaged see this kind of disruption and danger all the time. Go ask someone living in poverty what normal is.

I’m not saying that life today is “normal,” so to speak, but I am saying, having connected some basic common-sense dots myself, and listened to and read people who study these kinds of pandemics and natural catastrophes, (see “climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown”), that these circumstances in which we find ourselves today should probably not be accompanied by too much surprise.

Similar to how you should not be too terribly shocked that Djokovic got defaulted yesterday from his R16 match with Spaniard Pablo CB.

Let me re-phrase that: although the Djokovic default in the R16 against PCB is a pretty bizarre turn-of-events, after Novak lost his service there in the 11th game, the match at 6-5 for the Spaniard, set to serve for the first set, this is Novak Djokovic: a guy who has battled these kinds of faux pas for what seems like years, though striving he remains in an apparent escape from the Fedal shadow that is the public perception obstacle of his glorious career.

That DF was inevitable both microcosmically and macrocosmically.

If you were watching the match, you saw Novak getting frustrated (which, granted, happens in a lot of matches. Athletes, even you and I, get frustrated, are having an off day/match, etc.). Slamming the ball into the sideboard a game or two prior to the DF showed he was, in this match, getting a bit hot under the collar. James Blake made a side note of this frustrated pre-DF blast. No one was hurt, but this kind of extra curricular, post-point/game dramatics flirts with danger, as in DF danger.

In other words, microcosmically, one could see this transpiring.

In terms of the bigger picture, I gave a nod to the rehashed discussion that pits Novak against the shadow legacy of Fedal. This could seem inaccurate, a stretch, a Fedal-centric perspective.

But there’s too much history or humanity to deny this point-of-view entirely. This event yesterday adds to the difficulty of Novak’s tennis supremacy, against the field and this history, in a tournament Novak clearly should have won, a championship with which he could have climbed ever-so much closer to his rivals, who both happen to be sitting this major out.

A very popular gif making the rounds after yesterday’s DF:

No, Fedal are probably not expressing these kinds of reactions to the event in yesterday’s R16 match between Novak and Pablo. At the same time, Fedal fans are almost certainly feeling this way. This is the men’s tennis GOAT debate and discourse: real yet kinda silly and petty at the same time.

There is no debate about the call the USO made (the chair ump and the other two officials who convened on the court to discuss the consequences of Novak’s outburst, after losing that service game, grabbing the extra ball in his pocket and hitting it, in even the slightest frustrated manner, where he wasn’t looking, toward the back of the court where line officials are sitting or standing). If the ball hits the backboard and no human body is involved, he escapes a second poor and dangerous decision.

That ball could have glanced her foot and he’d have been just as liable for the rules violation.

As for the length of the discussion in which Novak appears to be making his case, most of us will say that was out of respect for the world #1. We doubt they were going to have a long discussion like that and then let him continue in the match, overlooking the clear violation of the rules and what the delay does to the Spaniard who was set to serve for the first set.

Novak was done. And this was clear self-destruction.

And yes this is an absolute shame. We all wanted to see the Serb advance deep into the business-end of this tournament and take-on a Thiem or Medvedev, two younger players nipping at the heals of the greats, fighting for their first major.

Sure we could have put this in the context of some of Novak’s other odd 2020 exploits, like the Adria tour, his comments about magic water, or criticism of some of the USO’s safety protocols that suggested he wasn’t being as supportive of the younger, less financially secure players as he says he is, which even prompted more criticism of his leadership with this new players’s union.

I’d rather put this in the context of his entire career: a guy who simply does, in fact, rub some people the wrong way, some of which some of us argue results from his try-too-hard attitude he’s used to circumnavigate Fedal.

His frustration in hitting that ball that hit that line judge in the throat is not necessarily the same frustration he feels from having to endure and still fight to equal and surpass is older rivals.

But those of us who watch the sport with an historian’s wide-eyes see this kind of event with a nod to an impressionist’s distillation of the moment that stretches into the past with a glimmer of the future — there on the horizon.

My last post, interestingly, referenced some of these younger players like Davidovich Fokina in the context of the sport’s parity or future of the sport: look at this draw! Tis the future, my friends.

Oh, and my positive spin on this Djokovic DF? Easy. He has more time to prepare for Roland Garros. 😀

Quick update on the tournament.

Pospisil’s run has ended, after beating two strong players who seemed to have some recent form in Raonic and RBA. De Minaur moves on. Uhg.

Big match today with Thiem and FAA: Thiem must advance. You know I’ve had my eye on FAA (a lot of us have, obviously), but that serve has been mutinous. I don’t want Thiem to fall to such an untrustworthy game.

Tiafoe v Medvedev could be interesting, but I suspect the Russian has enough maturity and form on this Labor Day to go to work against the volatile Frances. Frances can play, however. We know this.

I have not seen Berrettini play really, nor Rublev, but I like the Russian here. I could be dead wrong.

I was right about Shapo, but Novak ruined that QF. How about the Shapo vs Fritz match we briefly previewed. The Canadian was dead in that match, but fought. That’s what the American lacks. His body language was awful even when he was up! The fighters are the winners in this sport, in life!

Coric’s win over Tsitsipas was wild. Watching the players get into each other is worth the price of admission. That’s the cream of the competition, when things get a little personal. Coric has that in his bag. I’ve liked his game but where did he go? He appears to be finding that form that scared some people back in 2018.

Zverev will be tough with that serve, as I said earlier. That’s a tennis constant: a big serve is a huge advantage. Fritz had that on Shapo for much of that match. If you can hit mid 130s and even 140, you’ve a weapon, my friend.

Obviously, the DF has opened the draw completely. As everyone and his/her dog has announced: we get a first time major winner at the 2020 USO (first QF round at a major without the Big 3 since 2004 French?).

Medvedev and Thiem seem the likeliest candidates. We’ll see if Thiem can hear those bells later today. Again, must win for the Austrian today.

But they’re all must-wins, no? We’ll talk more about the future’s prospects tomorrow.

Nothing is guaranteed. Just ask Novak.

Editor’s note: the Tennis Channel and ESPN continue to undermine their objective coverage of tennis. If you turn-on ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open right now, you will get Cornet vs Pironkova (WTA). This was chosen over Thiem vs Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pathetic. To be clear, that WTA match is some genuine crap tennis. Shame.

Fortuntately, we can still access this men’s match, but come on, ESPN. Get your shit together.

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