by John Furgele
In the past three years, we have learned a thing of two about tennis player Novak Djovokic. The first is that he is an exceptional talent. He is a wonderful ball striker and can move gracefully across the court. Two, he’s a champion. Last January, he beat Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, then took out Jo-Wilfred Tsongas in the final.
There is, however, another side to the Serb, and that side is one that athletes do not like to be called. Djokovic is soft….very soft, and he is the ultimate frontrunner. When things are going his way, he is commanding and dominating, when they are not, you get what you got last night against American Andy Roddick……a quitter.
Citing cramps and fatigue, Djokovic retired from his match versus Roddick. He won the first set 7-6, then lost set two 6-4 and the third 6-2. If you watched set two, you knew as soon as Djokovic lost and realized that he wouldn’t get a straight set win that he was going to quit. His body—and his body language—were not good, even when he was winning. And, at 1-2 in set four, he was done.
Djokovic claimed the cramps were due to his late ending match in the previous round, but don’t bother with the excuses. These are supposedly fine tuned athletes, the best tennis players in the world, and for some reason, many do not have the stamina, the endurance to play long matches. Furthermore, this is not the Pilot Pen Invitational (no offense, New Haven); this is the Australian Open, a Grand Slam event, an event that if you win, it changes one’s career. To quit without fighting to the end is difficult to comprehend.
It is very hot in Melbourne at this time of the year, so hot that many are calling for the Open to be pushed back to February to give the players more time to get fit and more time for the weather to cool in the Aussie summer. That would be caving in to the softie tennis players out there. Why was Djokovic unfit to play a complete match? Why didn’t he take IVs all day to properly fuel up for a match against Roddick? How about drinking more water? Did he forget to cater his training to the schedule? Roddick may not have Djokovic’s talent, but the kid never quits in a match and came to Melbourne lighter, fitter and ready to play long matches.
As for Djokovic, here’s hoping that he learns from the experience. Yes, he has his slam, but in other big matches, he has gotten soft and pouted afterwards. At the U.S. Open last summer, he baited the New York crowd after he beat Roddick and the New York let him know that they were not happy with that particular behavior.
I’m certainly not happy with Djokovic’s behavior either. He acts like a spoiled brat while playing and has all the typical mannerisms: fist pumping when winning, pouting when losing. Last night, we got neither. What we did get was a man who didn’t want to play through the pain, a soft man, a man who did not give the fans their money’s worth. Nobody likes to call an athlete soft, but it’s tough not to use that word when describing Djokovic’s actions last evening.
It’s a shame, because the man can play—-when he wants to.