Tennis

Novak Djokovic must live with bad guy tag, says John McEnroe

American great also tells world No. 1 to man up after hitting line judge with ball

Novak Djokovic will have to get used to being the "bad guy" following his disqualification from the US Open for striking a line judge with a ball, said American great John McEnroe.

The world No. 1 was defaulted at 6-5 down in the first set of his match against Pablo Carreno Busta yesterday morning (Singapore time), after a ball he swiped in frustration hit a female official on the throat.

The 33-year-old Serb did not attend the post-match conference. Instead, he posted an apology on Instagram.

McEnroe, whose own behaviour frequently landed him in hot water with officials during his playing career, said Djokovic had buckled under pressure.

"The pressure just got to him. I think a lot has been going on off the court," McEnroe, who was disqualified in the fourth round of the 1990 Australian Open after being handed three code violations, told ESPN.

"It's obviously affected him and, whether he likes it or not, he's going to be the bad guy the rest of his career.

"If he embraces that role, I think he could recover. He's got a lot of things going for him, but this is a stain that he's not going to be able to erase."

McEnroe also took umbrage with Djokovic for failing to attend the post-match press conference, saying the Serb should have faced the music instead of apologising on social media.

"You got to man up. It made no sense to me. In the past, I've seen him take responsibility when he's blown it. In this case, it makes it even worse," said the four-time US Open champion. "So what if he apologised on Twitter... that's not good enough."

While some pundits and fellow players believe it was just bad luck that Djokovic hit a line judge that way, they agree that "rules are rules".

Mats Wilander, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, said: "You are not allowed to do that. It's as much bad luck as you can have on a tennis court.

"He didn't just roll the ball back to the ball kid, that's the bottom line."

Carreno Busta now will meet Denis Shapovalov in the last eight.

Djokovic was the hot favourite to claim an 18th Grand Slam title, and his exit has presented an opportunity for the likes of second seed Dominic Thiem and fifth seed Alexander Zverev to win their first Slam.

This was not the first time questionable judgment has led to unintended consequences for the world No. 1. In June, he organised the ill-fated Adria Tour - where several players contracted Covid-19.

His latest misdeed has served as a timely reminder for his fellow players, some of whom would also hit balls away or throw rackets in frustration.

Women's fourth seed Naomi Osaka, who reached the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Anett Kontaveit, said: "For me, that's definitely like a warning to never do that...

"I try not to slam my racket anyways. Of course, I probably do a couple times. But I definitely think it's making people a bit more aware." - REUTERS, AFP

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