Grace in Victory

The title of this blog describes my opinion of Naomi Osaka. A woman is who clearly as kind off the court as she is on it. She came through a relatively straightforward final 6-4 6-3 against Jennifer Brady on Saturday, winning her fourth Grand Slam title at just 23 years of age. We have seldom seen this sort of consistency in the women’s game since the glory days of the Williams sisters, a sign that Osaka could be ushering in a new period of dominance in tennis.

However, the words I’ve used to describe Osaka sadly cannot be used to describe the men’s champion, Novak Djokovic, who eased past Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2 6-2. Last year, Djokovic was involved in a whole host of scandals, mainly related to his opinions and actions on vaccinations and coronavirus restrictions, as well as a dispute over supposedly ‘faked’ injuries. Djokovic complained of a problem with his neck in the lead up to the US Open last year, and seemingly only felt pain when matches became difficult, before miraculously banishing all signs of any ailment to crush his confused opponents, who would have thought that Djokovic was a beaten man. The same thing happened in this tournament in Round 3, with Djokovic looking hampered and disengaged for 2 sets against Taylor Fritz, before once again performing medical miracles to produce quality tennis and win yet again.

Before his 4th Round encounter with Milos Raonic, Djokovic said in a press conference that he had probably torn an abdominal muscle, and that he wasn’t sure if he would even make it onto court against the Canadian. Yet Djokovic came out playing exceptional tennis with no signs of any injury. If last year’s debacle didn’t awaken the attention of those in the tennis world, this one certainly did. Muscle tears are injuries that usually take months to recover from, and Djokovic coming out and playing a highly physical match two days later, followed by 3 more brutal matches raised suspicions.

Thanasi Kokkinakis, whose career has been plagued by various injuries (including muscle tears) said “I’m like, if he can recover from a torn muscle in two days, hats off. Teach me”. Patrick Mouratoglou, coach of Serena Williams and Stefanos Tsitsipas said “Sometimes, Novak (Djokovic) plays a bit with the mind of the opponent when he’s in trouble, pretending he’s giving up. And then, boom, he plays again. He’s done that a lot of time in the past…” Even Rafael Nadal, a man who always chooses his words carefully to convey respect, couldn’t help but have a dig, saying “If you really have physical problems, you will not win. If you have some pain and it’s not putting you in a situation that limits you, the movements, maybe you can find a way. But when you really, really have an injury, it’s impossible to win a tournament like this.”

So the question is: did Djokovic ever have an injury? The answer is probably yes. However, it has become abundantly clear that it was not a serious one, or at the very least not as serious as the Serb made it out to be. He had some pain and exaggerated what he was feeling, both on court and in press conferences, in order to play with the mind of his opponents, as Mouratoglou suggested. While there is no explicit rule against this type of gamesmanship, it is certainly not respected in the tennis world. For those of you interested in football, it is the equivalent of diving after being challenged fairly in order to win a foul. Djokovic won a remarkable 18th Grand Slam title this week and while he may go down as one of greatest players of all time, things like this will certainly do further damage to a legacy already tainted by his various reprehensible actions in 2020.

Written by Emre Saridogan