Tennis’ New Bad Boy

Sports is not only defined by the scintillating play of athletes, but also by the roles which they play. There’s the superstars, the role players, the enforcers, the bad boys, and more. That last one is a reputation that athletes rarely attain, and surely, they don’t actively seek it out. However, being labeled a “bad boy” in a sport generally comes with a negative connotation. It means you don’t like following rules, you often pout or lash out at people, and it ends up being a permanent stain on someone’s career, regardless of how legendary it may have been. This is the fate that Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has sealed for himself.

In tennis history, there have been a few “bad boys.” Recently, it has been Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who often had emotional outbursts on the court. However, he’s worked on toning his anger down, with encouraging results. However, tennis’ consummate “bad boy” is and has always been John McEnroe. An accomplished American player with seven Grand Slam titles, McEnroe was a formidable opponent. But no one remembers that about him. They remember how he was a loudmouth on the court, how he’d berate the chair umpire if there was a call that went against him. However, he never hurt anyone. But Novak Djokovic did.

Yesterday, Djokovic hit a line judge in the throat with a ball that he hit in anger after losing a point. ATP rules are sometimes up for debate, but the rule here was crystal-clear: for hitting an official, Djokovic would have to default the match and exit the US Open. Now, hitting the poor woman was bad enough, but Djokovic decided to go further and appeal to the chair umpire, asking him to “give me a game penalty, a set penalty,” but not to disqualify him, despite knowing what the rules say, as if his pedigree of winning 18 Grand Slam Titles should afford him some special privilege.

Obviously, this kind of conduct is shameful, but it’s even worse, because Novak’s temper has been a regular issue on the Tour for years. The transcript of a post-match press conference from 2016 was found where Djokovic admonishes a journalist for asking about what would happen if he didn’t rein in his outbursts. The journalist remarked that “your temper might cost you a match someday,” to which Novak Djokovic snapped back, saying that his concern was ridiculous and unfounded. Well, how ridiculous is it now?

I think it’s obvious what fate will befall the Serb. Despite being among the greatest tennis players we’ve ever seen; Novak Djokovic’s legacy will be akin to that of John McEnroe: an insanely good player who couldn’t control his temper and will forever be remembered for lashing out at the press and hitting a referee.

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