Britain’s top seed Cameron Norrie was at the end of Novak Djokovic’s furious death gaze after he smashed the Serb with a full smash during their spirited encounter in Rome.
A direct hit to the back of No. 1’s left ankle/left calf revived their 16-game run at the Rome Masters, with the usually mild Nouri sparking the unexpected flashpoint.
Djokovic clearly deemed this an unacceptable display of aggression after turning his back and giving up the point.
However, from Norrie’s perspective, it could be argued that he was looking at the ball – a nice, squishy ball, just above the net – and so may not have seen that his opponent was walking back to the service line, with no intention of continuing the march.
While Nuri immediately apologized, he did so briefly and then moved on. From the way Djokovic reacted, he was expecting something more enthusiastic. The next time the two men crossed the aisles, when they went back to their chairs for a change, he looked at Nouri again.
The incident below occurred in what seemed, at the time, a key moment in the middle of the second set. Already set and falling apart, Norrie was trying to convert a rare breaking point.
He played an accurate shot, which cut the net rope on its way. Djokovic responded with a shot of his own, whereupon Nuri earned a second net deflection with a forehand. Under the circumstances, Djokovic showed incredible reflexes to simply launching the ball back into the air, whereupon he turned his back – and then felt this blow on his left leg.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, provoking Djokovic is generally not recommended. He quickly broke again and served to a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory, although Nouri took an injury time out for a hip problem during the final changeup.
The two men shook hands, but it wasn’t the warmest of encounters on the net, and there was almost no eye contact. One wonders if Djokovic’s late arrival on the court at the start of the match (he was 10 minutes behind schedule, apparently because he needed treatment for a shoulder problem he felt while warming up) really added an extra edge to the contest, even before the knockout. Violation.
And so Djokovic, the defending champion in Rome, advanced to the quarter-finals. But even if he goes on to lift the title for an extraordinary seventh time, he is still guaranteed to lose world No. 1 to Carlos Alcaraz – who suffered an upset defeat to world No. 135 Fabian Marzan on Monday – at the end of the event.
Amazon Prime commentator Marc Beachey said in his post-match analysis, “You could say Cam had his eyes on the ball, but as a tennis player, you know where your opponent is in that situation. By the fact that he didn’t apologize twice, you kind of know he meant it.” that “.