Mind power theories & temper tantrums: Novak Djokovic’s biggest scandals
Tennis icon Novak Djokovic is in the headlines again because of his Australian Open vaccine exemption row – but as we explain, this isn’t his first rodeo in a glittering career with no shortage of controversies.
Disqualification from the US Open
At Flushing Meadows in 2020, Djokovic was disqualified as he trailed Pablo Carreno Busta 6-5 in the first set of their fourth-round meeting.
Smacking a ball behind himself in anger, Djokovic hit the line judge in the neck and had a 29-match winning streak brought to an abrupt end in shocking fashion.
Djokovic disqualified from the US Open for hitting a line judge in the face with a tennis ball pic.twitter.com/mpafwm1ODL— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) September 6, 2020
Holding his hands up later, Djokovic admitted at a press conference that he was in the wrong but couldn't "promise" or "guarantee" that "I will never ever do anything similar to that in my life."
On Instagram, though, Djokovic took on a much more contrite tone and claimed that "this whole situation has left me really sad and empty".
"I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy," said the star.
"As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being," Djokovic stressed, while apologizing to the US Open, which he has won four times, and everyone "associated [with] my behavior".
The Adria Tour
As most nations began to emerge out of a coronavirus-imposed lockdown, Djokovic was "extremely happy" to announce the Adria Tour put together by him and his family, with "absolutely all income" going to humanitarian organizations and local Covid regulations and rules followed and adhered to.
Scheduled to take place in five Balkan cities across a three-week period, the exhibition event courted controversy as soon as its first leg in his hometown of Belgrade, where Djokovic faced fellow Serb Viktor Troicki, saw a majority-maskless crowd of 4,000 punters filling the stadium for an event eventually won by Austria's Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic defended this and pointed to "better numbers" in that part of the world compared to other countries where total Covid cases and death tolls were much higher.
"You can also criticize us and say this is maybe dangerous but it's not up to me to make calls about what is right and wrong for health," Djokovic said at the opening ceremony. "We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us."
As the players hugged and took selfies with fans, the same weekend saw participants such as Djokovic, Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov filmed dancing the night away shirtless in a packed nightclub.
Novak Djokovic is the latest, top tennis player to contract COVID-19, after partying in a sweaty nightclub while hosting a controversial tournament in Europe. https://t.co/QTbBxPqgJ2@DjokerNole@GreenhalghSarah#7NEWSpic.twitter.com/OlcdgGYEOD— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) June 24, 2020
The final of the tour stage in Zadar, Croatia, between Djokovic and Russia's Andrey Rublev then had to be scrapped after Dimitrov contracted Covid, and meant that the remaining three legs of the tour in Montenegro and the Bosnian cities of Banja Luka and Sarajevo also needed to be shelved.
On June 22, one of Dimitrov's opponents, Borna Coric, announced that he had tested positive for Covid, as did Troicki and his pregnant wife Aleksandra hours later.
The following day, Djokovic and his own spouse Jelena followed suit, which forced Nole to issue an apology and say he was "so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm" on Twitter.
Water purification claims
While it has finally been confirmed by court transcripts during his Australian visa row that Djokovic is unvaccinated, his views on the matter were already being aired around the same time as the ill-fated Adria Tour.
A message in a private Facebook chat between Serbian tennis players saw him state he was against vaccination, and Djokovic then invited wellness guru Chervin Jafarieh as a guest to one of his 'Self Mastery Project' sessions on Instagram Live, where the health benefits of positive emotions, such as purifying water, were discussed.
But Djokovic can use the power of his mind to fix bad food and water. pic.twitter.com/GGY0mwbRRD— Graeme Ettinger ↕️ (@GraemeEtt) January 8, 2022
"I've seen people and I know some people that, through that energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they manage to turn the most toxic food or most polluted water, into the most healing water," Djokovic claimed.
"Because water reacts and scientists have proven that. That molecules in the water react to our emotions, to what is being said."
Some accused the 20-time Grand Slam great of descending into "pseudoscience".
Making a smash
Aside from the US line judge incident, the Serbian tennis icon has found himself accused of other instances of unacceptable behavior in matches down the years.
In 2019, he smashed a racket to smithereens by hitting it into the ground at the Monte Carlo Masters. In the same match, he then lobbed another racket at the ball that sailed into the stands and narrowly missed fans.
A month later, two similar incidents occurred at a competition in Rome, which is where he also smashed his racket at the Italian Open in 2020 less than a fortnight after being kicked out of the US Open.
"Well, let me tell you it's not the first nor the last racket that I'll break in my career," Djokovic admitted. "I have done it before, I'll probably do it again," he predicted, and this proved to be true.
The same city saw a "disgusting" meltdown in May last year, and in September, he again took his anger out on his equipment when facing Daniil Medvedev in a final he eventually lost to the Russian when missing an opportunity to level up after falling a set behind.
Indeed, there is a lengthy YouTube compilation devoted to Djokovic racket smashes made in 2019 that doesn't even feature some of his most recent exploits such as hurling his racket into the empty stands at the Tokyo Olympics.
Djokovic just tossed his racquet into the stand. No warning. pic.twitter.com/TMCv29dCnQ— . (@Ashish__TV) July 31, 2021
Accusations of faking injury
Less red mist and more dark arts, Djokovic has been accused of feigning injury as far back as the 2008 US Open, where he took two timeouts against Tommy Robredo.
This caused Andy Roddick to mock him for overcoming "two hurt ankles" plus back and rib injuries, "a cramp, bird flu, anthrax, SARS, common cough and cold".
"He’s either quick to call the trainer or he’s the most courageous guy of all time. It’s up for you guys to decide," the American claimed.
In the 2015 Australian Open final against Andy Murray, Djokovic stumbled after losing points which the beaten Scot later claimed was "frustrating". "I got a bit distracted when he fell on the ground," he said, asserting that Djokovic's injuries were "not legitimate".
The following year, commentator Patrick McEnroe branded another of Djokovic’s medical timeouts a "complete abuse of the rules" and accused officials of not having "the guts" to address the issue with the trend apparently continuing as recently as the 2021 Australian Open.
In the third round, against Taylor Fritz, Djokovic went two sets up and then broke down with what he later protested was an abdominal muscle tear as the Californian leveled.
Managing to recover, Djokovic then went on to win the match and the tournament a record ninth time, as it now remains uncertain whether he can make that 10 in 2022.