The match: The semi-finals of a Masters Cup event.
The opponent: Roger Federer, the number 1 player in the world as well as the number 1 seed.
The score: 3-6, 2-3 in favor of Federer.
The result: Novak Djokovic retires.
The reason: He had a sore throat and was feeling dizzy.
This is not the first time that Djokovic has pulled out of a match against an opponent to whom he was losing. [He has retired twice against Nadal at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and once against Davydenko at Davis Cup]. It is not the first time that he has come up with a ridiculous excuse for losing. [In Miami, against Anderson, he said that he had broken a shoelace. I kid you not]. This is not the first time he has behaved distastefully when the crowd supports his opponent. [Against Tsonga at the Australian Open, Novak made spitting gestures and hurled expletives at the crowd for vociferously supporting his opponent.]
Add up these incidents and the emerging picture is that of a sore loser.
Why did Novak quit against Federer in Monte Carlo? At 3-6, 2-3, he could easily have lasted the additional ten minutes it would have taken to properly complete this match. Why didn’t he do just do that?
For two reasons in my opinion. First, he may have wanted to deny Federer the satisfaction of beating him after having earned a reputation as one of the players who has climbed into Federer’s head and set up camp there. A loss to Federer in Monte Carlo may have validated Federer’s claim that he has been severely ill since the start of the year and was not performing his best. Supporting this are Novak’s own words during his post-match interview:
Q. How did Roger look to you, facing him for the first time since Melbourne?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He looks good. He was more aggressive than in Melbourne. I think he stepped up more. He was more patient. And I think I made some crucial mistakes in that first set. I had some chances on 3 All I think or 2 All, some breakpoints. Unfortunately in the end, physically I didn’t hold on. You know, in them moments, when you just need to stay patient and just play another ball back, I wanted to finish up with the return. So resulted with a mistake.
Second, Novak may have wanted to give the impression that he was only losing to Federer because of illness. But this too is repudiated by his post-match interview, where he cast doubt on his own excuse when he revealed that he had been feeling dizzy for three days:
Q. After three days, nobody knows what it is exactly?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No. Just I thought it’s nothing serious. You know, on the matches, I played well and I felt okay afterwards. I asked doctor yesterday. But he said I don’t have nothing, which I really don’t believe. I think he didn’t give me the right diagnosis, obviously. I’ll check as soon as possible.
Can you smell the bullshit?
Novak, in my opinion, is not only extremely competitive, he is also a piss-poor loser.
Djokovic seems to be so competitive that he would do anything to avoid losing. Whether it is bouncing the ball 20 times one game and 11 times the other, so that his opponent is never sure exactly when he is about to serve. Or protesting line calls even after the umpire has ruled. Or not cautioning his family against giving distasteful interviews in which they openly bash his opponents.
But tennis umpires now seem to be on to his tricks. In Monte Carlo, he got a time warning after one of his interminable bouncing routines. This seemed to piss him off so much that he made a point of yelling at the umpire and pumping his fist after hitting a forehand winner in the next point. He just hates to lose.
One of Djokovic's weaknesses seems to be his inordinate level of emotional dependence. He seems to have a hard time functioning when everyone isn’t cheering for him during a match. When at one point he hit a first serve into the net and the crowd cheered, he went on to lose next 13 points. No wonder he plays his best tennis when there is a huge Serbian contingent present. Or when his parents and brothers – who seem to have no life outside of supporting him – join in protesting calls against him.
Which brings me to my favorite moment in Monte Carlo. The Djokovic camp called a ball in after the line judge had called it out. Federer inspected the mark and conceded that the ball was indeed in. And then he looked over at Camp Djokovic, which had continued their vocal protests, and told them to be quiet. To a person they responded as if someone had let the air out of their tires. Their faces reflected shock and embarrassment. They had been collectively put in their place. Federer seemed to be saying, “I gave the wimp the point, what the hell else do you want? Shut up about it already”. And they did.