When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough and the not so tough quit. And that’s just what the not so tough Novak Djokovic did today, just as he has done before, hitting the eject button when things turned against him in a big match.
Today in the Monte Carlo semifinals, Djokovic retired with a breathing illness to Roger Federer after getting broken to go down 6-3, 3-2. The retirement follows a mysterious pattern of in-match withdrawals by the Serb, who pulled a similar act against Nadal at the French Open, Nadal at Wimbledon and even against Davydenko this year in Davis Cup.
And I feel confident in speaking for many tennis fans in saying that we are tired of this act.
You play to win. You don’t play to quit. If Novak’s looking to make fans and gain their respect, this isn’t how to do it.
In Novak’s defense, I understand he’s had a breathing problem, one that was serious enough to require surgery. So it’s there. That’s a fact. It’s been an issue. But Novak, what I cannot understand is if it’s that serious how come you don’t ever retire when you are winning? And why is it only against the top guys and at moments when you feel like the match is no longer within grasp that decide to wave the white flag?
I think it’s safe to say the guy has a game of a No. 1 player, but much like Richard Gasquet, his fate is going to be determined by what goes on between his ears. And right now he’s not right up there.
Sure there’s a physical component, but it’s seems to be more mental with Novak because he feels it more in the tougher times. And his ego maybe does get the best of him.
Part of being a great tennis player is being a great fighter. And Novak really hasn’t shown much of that fighting spirit up to this point in his career. Even today, if this guy needed to draw some inspiration to continue and possibly come back – it wasn’t like he was playing bad either! – all he needed to do was to look across at the net at Federer who could have easily mailed it in when in the second round Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo had him by the throat up 5-1 in the third set. To his credit Federer didn’t quit and now look how nicely it’s paid off. Federer didn’t get to No. 1, didn’t win 12 Slams, by being a great frontrunner. There’s more to it.
Novak is going to need to learn that. And last I checked – and I’m no tennis historian – but I don’t recall too man guys with a history of retirements ever reaching the No. 1 ranking. Marcelo Rios had a lot of injuries, so did Gustavo Kuerten. Andy Roddick had issues early in his career, but he’s overcome them. And has Roger Federer ever retired from a match? I can’t remember.
So Novak, you can’t retire your way to No. 1. It’s not going to happen that way. Few doubt your game, but what’s going on between your ears is another matter. You have a lot of money now, hire a psychologist or two and a good trainer and get it worked out in your head. And stop sapping your strength by bouncing the ball a thousand times (I get dizzy also just watching that!), re-adjusting your hat and doing imitations. Save your energy for actual play.
(Imitating Novak would be easy. Just bend over in exhaustion, take a few deep breaths, fall to your knees a few times, look distressed and then signal to the chair umpire. That’s Novak. You don’t even need to do the ball bounce routine.)
As for the match, Federer continued his high level he had set from his Nalbandian win. He looked that good, that impressive. (Did Fed really yell at Novak’s parents telling them to “Shut up” as the announced hinted? If so that was great!). But will it be enough tomorrow against Nadal? Will he continue on this revenge tour? Probably not. I have to stick with Nadal in that one.
I think it will help Federer in getting such a quick match today after a few three setters this week, but this is Nadal’s surface, Nadal’s time of year. He’s built for clay supremacy. And of course Nadal’s got Fed’s number, especially on clay.
Federer, though, I think is playing at a level now where if Nadal is off his game the Swiss can take it. And he’ll be playing without a lot of pressure. But Roger’s going to have to play impeccably and aggressively. Attacking when it’s right and even using that new drop shot of his.
I guess the one bright side of Novak’s retirement is that we do get the Federer-Nadal matchup. And we are assured no one’s going to hit the eject button during tomorrow’s final.
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