I was looking for a statement-type match from Novak Djokovic at the US Open last night, and I got that and a whole lot more. Novak beat Roddick convincingly on the court, and then immediately after hit back at the American and his critics for insinuating that he fakes his injuries.
In case you missed it live last night as I did, during the post match festivities USA Network’s on court MC Michael Barkann trotted Djokovic out to the center court where Novak took the opportunity to flat-out unload on Roddick.
“Andy was saying I have 16 injuries in last match. Obviously I don’t, right?” said Novak.
He didn’t stop there, he then attacked the crowd eliciting a chorus of even more boos from the NY/Roddick fans: “I know they’re already against me because they think I’m faking everything.”
Wow. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Novak, it did. Or did it really?
I’ve said it a few times in the last week that Djokovic needs to get as far away as possible from those on-court microphones. Those things should be kryptonite to him. Either that or he needs to undergo some serious, serious public relations training before stepping up to an open, on court mic again. The guy is just explosive right now in front of those devices.
So was Novak out of line for ripping Roddick publicly? Absolutely.
Did Roddick take it too far in joking about Novak’s ailments? Probably.
From my view, they both did wrong and they both should know better, so I’ll call it even on that end. But their head-to-head is no longer even after Novak won the contest in impressive fashion 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) to return to the US Open semifinals for a second straight year where he’ll face Roger Federer Saturday afternoon.
The first two sets were lopsided in favor of Novak before Roddick upped his play, took the third and then served for the fourth at 5-4. With Roddick just two serves away, a fifth set looked all but a certainty But after two double faults Djokovic leveled the match behind a breathtaking lob. Ernests Gulbis flinched against Andy in the second round, this time it was Roddick doing the flinching.
Djokovic took advantage of Andy’s collapse, held and after Roddick served out his 5-6 game, the two headed for a fourth-set tiebreak. Djokovic gained the early 4-2 lead but Roddick fought back to even and then served at 5-5 where Roddick fell apart again. After a lengthy rally Roddick tried to end the point with of all things a drop shot, which fell short into the net. Seconds later Djokovic capitalized with a big serve that Roddick was unable to keep in the court. Match over, Novak was through, mission accomplished.
But the result turned out to be just the appetizer.
While the two made nice in the press conferences thereafter, whatever relationship they had before the match is probably now on ice.
Said Roddick afterward in the press: “I’m sorry he took it that way. There’s nothing else to say. I don’t think I was over the line. It wasn’t my intention, and, you know, I’m sorry he felt that way.”
Added Djokovic: “Unfortunately, Andy made a statement. I don’t think it was intentional, okay. He made a joke and it was a misunderstanding, so I don’t blame it on him. Okay. I did react on the court. Maybe I reacted. Maybe I exaggerated and reacted bad in that moment. No, I apologize if I reacted like that. But this was just impulsive, you know.”
As I said before, they are both at fault here. Andy did cross that line and he invited Novak’s response. And Novak can’t be reacting like that on a public stage.
But last night, as appalling as his interview and behavior may have been, I actually respect Novak for standing up for himself and fighting back. He not only won the match – let’s not lose complete sight of that achievement – but he also showed some stones in calling out Roddick publicly. Right or wrong, misunderstanding or not, Novak didn’t back down Thursday night against arguably the biggest bully in tennis. I liked the fact that he took offense to Roddick’s remarks. Novak clearly went into the match pissed off, with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove. And using Roddick’s words as fuel and motivation Novak executed his on court plan nearly to perfection. Good for him, full credit to him.
For Novak and for his fans, I think this will turn out to be a watershed moment in his career, a positive one in the longer term. In the short term he’ll likely get killed. Yes, he lost the crowd, he likely lost even more fans and he lost some friends in the locker room, but he won a very crucial match w/o any trainer visits or any histrionics. He stayed composed in the face of adversity and really came through in the clutch at the end by letting his tennis do the talking during play.
And as Roddick said afterward, “Maybe I did him a favor tonight.” I actually agree with Andy here. Maybe Novak will have finally learned his lesson. Maybe he’s gotten it all off his chest, all his internal angst toward the injury accusations he’s faced through the years. And maybe, hopefully, he’ll now shelve the drama act, the rhetoric, the trying to win friends routine and concentrate solely on just being a damn good tennis player, because at the end of the day that’s what he really is. A damn good tennis player. We’ll see.
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