Wednesday, September 1, 2021

From Day 2 US Open: Djokovic Can't Get No Respect, But He Doesn't Let 'em See Him Sweat (Figuratively Speaking)

View extended highlights of the Djokovic-Dune match at Video courtesy of USTA.


NOVAK Djokovic,
the current world No. 1 men's player, has 20 grand slam titles just like his fellow competitors Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But while the latter two are beloved, the former is merely liked. Or quite possibly, merely tolerated.

Latest case in point is in his first-round match yesterday evening (31 Aug.) against Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune of Denmark. The crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium continuously offered up near thunderous applause for the 18-year-old qualifier (See match highlights above and on Instagram).

Yet, Djokovic pulled it off in four sets, 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1.

IT should be noted that Djokovic is chasing history at this year's US Open (Federer and Nadal withdrew). He has a chance to pull ahead of the competition with Title No. 21. There is a lot of history around lucky 21, the biggest is a calendar slam. In other words, winning the Australian Open, French Open, The Championships Wimbledon AND the US Open in the same calendar year. Having already won the other Big 3 this year, Djokovic only lacks the US Open.

The last male tennis player to win a calendar slam was Australian Rod Laver in 1969. No female player has done so since German Steffi Graf in 1988.

Djokovic is chasing momentous history and practically everyone in the Ashe stadium was awares.

That is precisely why it was so astonishing that fans were cheering so enthusiastically for Rune. Sure, he was encouraging the crowd from the get-go, but to be polite fans could have offered tepid support. Instead, they chanted his name throughout the match. In post-match interviews, both players said they thought the crowd was booing, not RUNE-ing. It was Djokovic, the history chaser, who received tepid support.

Of course, there is much speculation about the reasons for fan behavior. Some suggested that they wanted to encourage the young Dane, whom most had never heard of. Understandably, fans wanted to see at least four sets of tennis. Some wags ventured that fans may still be rankled by the incident at last year's US Open that got Djokovic summarily booted. One of his angry balls landed in the throat of a lineswoman. Ouch! Then, there is racquet-gate from the Tokyo Olympics.

Fans with long memories may recall unfondly a decade or so Djokovic's tendency to retire from or collapse during matches. These peculiarities were so commonplace that he even received heat from others players. American Andy Roddick famously sneered, "Two injured ankles, hip ... knee ... cramps, bird flu, anthrax, SARS, common cough and cold."

Even the ever-benevolent and diplomatic Federer declared Djokovic a "joke" with the injury business.

Much of this was forgiven, however, when a Serbian doctor discovered that gluten was the problem. Djokovic immediately changed his diet and his stamina and game took off, landing him in the stratosphere where he currently resides.

Djokovic's predicament vis-a-vis tennis fans can be explained by some, all or none of the aforesaid and a million other reasons. Regardless of the reason(s), tennis fans around the world treat Roger and Rafa like prime rib and Djokovic like chopped liver. It is unfair, unfortunate and sad. Though some of the Serb's troubles have been self-inflicted, he does deserve redemption at some point, no? Certainly, at a time such as this. Trite to say it, but he deserves better.

To Djokovic's credit, he continues to take it in stride. He handled himself with decorum and restraint during and after the Rune match, considering that he was not yet aware that he wasn't being booed. Ouch!

In his on-court, post-match interview with Brad Gilbert, he was very gracious in his comments about Rune, a young man with swagger and a bright future. Pointedly, he did not address the crowd. Who could blame him? What was he to say?
Novak Djokovic and Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune on the court of the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, 31 Aug. during their men's singles match at the 2021 US Open. Photo by Brad Penner/USTA.

The 34-year-old has a lot on his mind. If he is to win a calendar slam, he must keep himself to himself. Though he was no doubt deeply wounded by the crowd's shabby treatment, he was wise to not remark on it.

He knows what is at stake. That is why he won't wear his wounds on his sleeve. One can sense that his eyes are firmly fixed on the prize: 6 more match wins. It will be interesting to see how both Djokovic and the fans comport themselves tomorrow evening (2 Sept). His opponent in the first of the six remaining matches is 25-year-old Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands. He is ranked 121st in the world.

Of course, if Djokovic plays his cards right he can comfort himself with a 21st grand slam. Victory and History can make up for his troubled and complicated relationship with tennis fandom.

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