By now you heard the news, Novak Djokovic has gone and done it again, retiring during yet another crucial match. Yesterday, with the Melbourne air temperature hovering in the low 90s, Djokovic quit in the fourth set against Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
Djokvoic is of course the defending champion at the tournament, but the honor of that title defense wasn’t enough to prevent the Serb from tapping out due to heat, cramping and who knows what other maladies while down 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 2-1,
If this act sounds all too familiar it’s because it is. But when does it end? Is this his legacy?
Given the circumstances and conditions, I can understand Novak’s distress today, but he’s still got to finish the match. Maybe Roddick injures himself, or the shading from the roof covers the court and his regains some energy. Who knows? You are the defending champ so act like it. And unless you undergo a violent injury (like Zheng) or are about to fall over (like Azarenka) at the very least play out the match. But once again Novak couldn’t, and rather than push himself to the limit, he took the easy way out. (Hell, even Marion Bartoli finished!)
For the record, that’s already four retirements in Grand Slam events, seven in total for Djokovic. That’s far too many for some aged 30 let alone a 21-year-old who thinks he belongs in the No. 1 conversation. The joke now on the Joker is that at the U.S. Open this year he’ll shoot for the “Retirement Slam”, that is successfully bailing from a match at all four majors. A player with the skillset and talent of Djokovic, that’s not the kind of Slam mark one wants. But since he’s so young my guess is someday he’ll get it. And after this latest performance I’m rooting for it.
About a year ago I thoroughly ripped into Novak after he meekly retired to Roger Federer in Monte Carlo. I questioned his fitness, his health and above all his guts. But I thought he turned the corner at the US Open when he fired back at Roddick after the American made light of all his injuries. Coincidence or not, he closed the year without another retirement.
Yet now, not only does he retire again but he does it against the very guy who called him out it in the last Slam. Hollywood could not conjure up such a script. Does Novak have any pride? What must Roddick think? Federer? Rafael Nadal? Well, we already know what they think because Novak’s retired against them all now. And I’m sure each one privately snickered at Novak’s most recent R-E-T.
Now if you want to make the case that Novak should not have been playing so soon after his 2:30am fourth round finish, I’m fine with that. Similar to the US Open when Novak played the last quarterfinal match yet was scheduled first for the first semifinal, Djokovic got the shaft again and was denied the extra few hours of rest and rhythm that would come with a night match. So there is some bad luck there as I agree with him that they should have scheduled him later.
You could also argue that because of the heat the roof should have been closed but it wasn’t. Nor was play ever suspended on any outer courts due to the high temperatures. So it clearly wasn’t dangerously hot otherwise the juniors would have been sent off. That said though, Novak’s lack of rest and recovery combined with the heat played a role in his retirement, and I’m guessing (and hoping) had he been scheduled for the night match things may have turned out differently for the Serb. But in the end those were the cards he was dealt and instead of finishing his hand the Joker simply folded. Again.
If you are a Novak fan and supporter how do you defend this latest result? Even this one has to make you question your guy’s will to win and his ability to consistently play with the big boys like Federer, Nadal and even Murray who seem to be far more fitter.
So where does Novak Djokovic go from here? Well, it’s not on a rocket ship to the No. 1 ranking that’s for certain. Not in this climate. With an outrageous number of talented players in the game right now, if Novak ever wants to get a sniff of the No. 1 ranking he’s really going to have put the hard work in, get himself 100% fit and toughen up both physically and mentally. Only then will he be able to begin repairing his image as a guy who cannot take the heat. Literally.
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