30th November 2020

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BORIS BECKER: I feared this was going to happen to Novak Djokovic… when I was his coach

Boris Becker admitted in his Sportsmail column that he feared Djokovic would lose control

BORIS BECKER: I feared this was going to happen with Novak… when I was his coach I warned him not to throw things or hit the ball away – and I think it DOES bother him that he’s not as popular as Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer

  • Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open for hitting a ball at a judge
  • The World No 1 and tournament favourite was set to change ends after a game  
  • Without looking he accidentally hit the woman in the throat and she collapsed  
  • After a 10-minute chat Djokovic was disqualified and kicked out of the event

Getting defaulted from a Grand Slam is, for a tennis player, like a footballer being shown a red card in a big match at the World Cup.

If you asked David Beckham what the worst thing to happen to him in his career was, I am sure he would look back to the incident of 1998 against Argentina. If you ask Novak Djokovic in 10 years’ time for the worst thing he experienced on a tennis court it will surely be disqualification at the 2020 US Open.

That is why he will have been feeling both embarrassed and frustrated by the events of the fourth round as they start to sink in. The fines will be expensive but other aspects to it will hurt him more.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia talking to his coach at the time Boris Becker in Melbourne in 2016

Even as someone who has a high regard for Novak, I think the ruling was correct. I do not think he was trying to hurt anyone, he just lost control for a moment and he had to go.

It came at the end of a concentration lapse which followed him missing three set points at 5-4, but I suspect the reasons go deeper than that. To me, he is paying the price for taking too many things on before and during a Grand Slam, especially with his leadership of the new players’ organisation.

Winning a tennis major is incredibly difficult, because it involves focusing on a goal for a whole fortnight and maintaining your form against the best in the world. That has not changed since I was playing.

So I feared Novak may have taken on too much when I saw everything that was happening around the new organisation. For example, when Adrian Mannarino was being prevented last Friday by local health officials from taking to the court (due to his contacts with positively-tested Benoit Paire), it was the world No 1 who was trying to reach the State Governor on his behalf to help him.

Djokovic checks a linesman after hitting her with a ball in reaction to losing a point

Djokovic checks a linesman after hitting her with a ball in reaction to losing a point

He was even playing his own match that night. Most top players would have got their agent involved or something, but instead Novak took it on himself. You cannot pile these extra pressures on during a Grand Slam.

I also wonder if it might have been a mistake not having his long-time main coach Marian Vajda among the three people he was allowed with him in New York under the current restrictions. He is Novak’s go-to guy, someone who is very calm and has a sort of father figure influence — but he wasn’t there.

When I was working in his coaching team, I was in the player box during that incident with the racket-throwing at the 2016 French Open when, accidentally, he nearly connected with a line judge.

We spoke afterwards about it, because that was a narrow escape. I know what the pressure is like in a big match and was not always Mr Nice Guy as a player. I said to him you can scream as much as you like, break your racket, but don’t throw things or hit the ball away. I was worried something like this might happen.

Djokovic is playing in the era of two tennis gods in Rafael Nadal (right) and Roger Federer

Djokovic is playing in the era of two tennis gods in Rafael Nadal (right) and Roger Federer

But then, like everyone, some of Novak’s biggest strengths can be weaknesses. He is an emotional player with a streetfighter mentality, it is this kind of fire which has helped him win 17 Grand Slam titles.

I like him very much. He is the most humble guy you will find as a superstar, and is always thinking of people worse off than himself. He is highly intelligent and fiercely loyal to friends and family. If you are one of them, he is the kind of guy you could ring at 3am and he would help you.

He is a people person and wants to be appreciated like that. He is playing in the era of two tennis gods in Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and is a bit of a gate-crasher. I think it does bother him that he is not as generally popular as they are.

What I would advise him to do for now is get back to basics. He has acknowledged his mistake and it is important that he moves on, if he can, straight away, because there is little time before the French Open.

He should go home, talk to his wife Jelena — who knows him best of all — talk to Vajda, get back to the practice court and focus purely on his tennis. Roland Garros is always more of a challenge for him, but if he does that then anyone would be stupid to write him off.


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