Novak Djokovic’s temper gives tennis credibility, his passion should never be curbed
Novak Djokovic has been criticised for losing his temper at London's O2, but his passion for tennis should be encouraged not stifled, writes Desmond Kane.
Professional sport is laced with non-stories. In particular, press conferences are given more time and space than they merit when they are usually stage managed by PR sorts, and prompt bland responses that do little for the assembled media, rabid hacks waiting for a decent "line" or the player's general intelligence.
Curiously enough, Mourinho was at the O2 to witness Novak Djokovic's latest temper tantrum when he lobbed his racket after dropping the first set to Dominic Thiem on Sunday afternoon.
The accepted wisdom about organised pressers suggest they are a waste of time because everybody is guarded and spoon-fed the information by a random official. There is an unwritten law that suggests journalists should not really be rocking the boat if they are given the privilege of access to such events.
Which is all wrong, but entirely true.
Tennis is one of the worst culprits for such a phenomenon, a sport guarded and protective of its reputation and obligations to blue-chip sponsors. Yet this is a sport in its rawest sense that remains bloody, brutal, cut-throat and single-minded.
It was entirely refreshing to see Djokovic lose his rag on and off the court by shedding his Sunday best. He was a figure clearly annoyed by being prodded by reporters about why he was losing his temper. Asking him about going off at the deep end momentarily only contributed to his sense of dismay.
After losing the first set on a tiebreak to Dominic Thiem, Djokovic promptly blew a gasket when he thumped a ball towards his box. He was warned by the umpire for bad sportsmanship, but his frustration at falling behind seemed to give his own form a kickstart as he snagged the next two sets 6-0 6-2 to complete a resounding winning start to his bid for a fifth straight triumph at the big season ender.
There is a lot on the line for Djokovic, who knows he will end the year as world number one, a position he held for 122 weeks before being knocked off his perch by Britain's Andy Murray last week, if he can carry off this tournament.
When Djokovic was reminded towards the end of the presser that he had also tossed a racket in frustration during a match at the French Open, he did not let the moment slide idly by. Here is a segment of the verbal serve and volley.
- Reporter: "If that ball had hit a spectator, it could have been serious."
- Djokovic: “It could have been, yes. It could have snowed in the O2 Arena, as well, but it didn’t.”
- Reporter: “You’re not concerned about your mindset?”
- Djokovic: “I’m the only player that shows his frustration on the court? That’s what you are saying?”
- Reporter: “You’re one of the top-ranked players in the world.”
- Djokovic: “So?”
- Reporter: “You are showing this frustration. I’m asking you, do you think it’s an issue for you?”
- Djokovic: “It is not an issue for me. It’s not the first time I did it.”
The questions were fair, but so was the response. As a ferocious competitor, there would be something wrong with Djokovic if he did not lose his temper now and again. Indeed, it should be welcomed because it displays his passion, and love of the sport.
When men such as Nick Kyrgios are rightly berated for collapsing like a cheap suit at elite events, behaviour that is dreadfully bad news for the reputation of tennis, Djokovic is not interested in slipping quietly into the night. Which is why he is such a potent winning machine.
Novak Djokovic (ATP World Tour Finals, 2016)AFP
As long as he is not injuring any fans, or causing grave offence, Djokovic should be forgiven for such trivial moments. Indeed, it should be welcomed. His behaviour is believable and admirable.
It makes the sport credible. It also gives tennis - a sport famous for producing loose cannons like John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl - a greater narrative that would be missing if he became introverted.
Djokovic is a professional tennis player, not a monk.