Why it was Wrong to Boo Novak Djokovic off the Court

US Open Novak Djokovic

Throughout the first week of the 2019 US Open, Novak Djokovic has been struggling with a left shoulder injury. The Serbian was forced to retire two sets and a break down on Sunday night. Instead of clapping for the effort or cheering Stan Wawrinka’s win, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd went on to boo Djokovic as he was leaving the court.

The incident created an argument in the tennis world. Some listed multiple reasons why Djokovic’s retirement is a disgrace, while some defended the Serbian’s right not to risk any further injury.

Argument 1 – Left shoulder? He’s playing with his right hand!

Don’t mock a left shoulder injury. Djokovic has a two-handed backhand and his weaker hand is a key element in producing the stroke. The left arm is the one which performs the ball toss before the serve and even on forehand shots, don’t undermine its importance in keeping the right balance of the body.

Argument 2 – You retired back in 2008 due to heat, career retirement slam, blah blah

Djokovic used to retire mid-match many times in his early career due to reasons like heat or a sore throat. While that isn’t something that should be promoted as good sportsmanship or a positive image for the nextgen, time has passed. The Serbian is not the same player and not the same person. Sunday was Djokovic’s third retirement since the beginning of the 2012 season (the others came in Dubai 2016 against Feliciano Lopez and Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon 2017). Treat his career retirement slam rather as a fun fact.

Which brings us to…

Argument 3 – Roger has never retired midway through the match, that’s the right mentality!

Well, yes and no. Although it is true and impressive, it’s also extremely rare and requires a lot of luck. The fact that during his over 20-years-long professional career, Federer did not retire once is more of a testament to his unique recovery abilities and a less taxing playing style rather than an unbelievable achievement. The man is not an idiot; if he was severely injured he wouldn’t force himself to keep this record, especially in the latter stage of his career when one injury can end it for him.

Argument 4 – Some players battle through it, coward! 

Yes, players like Del Potro and Nadal often fight through pain on the court. So do many others about whose injuries we don’t know about. The question one always needs to ask themselves is just like the exact same one Laurence Olivier asks in The Marathon Man – is it safe?

It’s a question that only rarely has the right and wrong answer. All in all, it’s a matter of how you feel. If it’s a final and there’s not a single match left to play, you’re willing to risk more than when you find yourself two sets and a break down in a Round of 16 match.

Djokovic knows best what the danger of overextending is. The Serbian played with elbow injury through many tournaments in 2017 and it cost him half a year out of competition and more than a season outside the top spot. His biggest priority will be to never go back there again.

Have some respect

Djokovic was never as loved as Nadal or Federer are. Some attribute it to his Eastern European ancestry and cultural stereotypes, other find his on-court antics intolerable. Whatever your opinion on the guy, he’s up there in the pantheon of the greatest ever and might soon be regarded the best of the best. A three-time US Open champion should not be booed by the crowd there under almost any circumstance, and definitely not after retiring with an injury.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This was an appalling display by people who should know better and who should be ashamed of themselves. Novak has always been ultra honest in his interviews, while trying to play down his injuries. Having to retire part-way through a match he so desperately wanted to win, must have been heartbreaking for him. I and many others look forward to his return.

    Go champ!!!

  2. If your injured and you know you do not have a chance then you should relinquish the match. And taking the risk of worse or career ending injuries must take precedence. Sad to see the booing and poor sportsmanship from the crowd.

  3. New York crowds aren’t known for being very understanding. They wanted to see the match go the distance. Poor Novak, it must have seemed like they hated him, what with the crowd so much closer to the players than most other sports. The other players say he’s a very nice guy and I believe them, if that’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me as well.

  4. Nole is a great player and a wonderful character. He’s been the biggest threat for both Nadal and Federer after 2011. I am an out-an-out Federer fan and will remain so no matter who ends up where purely for the fact that the artistry of the Swiss magician is just so out of this world and forget victories even in defeats he gives you some strokes, some points or constructions of points that linger on in your memory. I think what Dave has said is the reason behind Nole being heckled. And I don’t think it is just about the New York crowds, as early in his career Djokovic did pull out of contests that furthered his reputation as a fighter who quits on his stool; especially that heat stress to a 22-year-old Nole who was the defending champion in Melbourne and was trailing two sets to one against a 27-year-old Roddick. Coincidentally he has always retired when he was trailing. Like Rick I too believe that he’s a nice guy; but sometimes its hard to shake perceptions.

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