Novak Djokovic’s tough week in Rome continued with another on-court encounter.
After being warned by Chief Justice Mohamed Lahyani for a time violation, the world No. 1 hit back by accusing the Swede of behaving more like a stage actor than a tennis official.
The blast came 24 hours after Djokovic’s feisty encounter with Britain’s No. 1 Cameron Norrie, and shortly before he was ousted from the Italian Open by Dane Holger Rohn.
“What drama awaits between English and Italian?” shouted Djokovic, who had just been warned for exceeding the 25-second allotment between points. “Are you acting here or what? Why call the score for 20 seconds?”
The outburst prompted flag gestures from tennis fans on social media. While Lahyani is generally rated among the best umpires on the tour, he is also known for the flashy – and extremely loud – manner in which he announces the score.
This may seem like an obscure detail, but the official guidelines state that the referee must start the 25-second shot clock immediately after the score is announced.
Lahyani was using Italian first, then English, but the drama surrounding the entire performance made it difficult for Djokovic to judge exactly how much time he had left.
At least the players maintained a spirit of mutual respect throughout, in contrast to Djokovic’s stormy encounter with Nuri on Tuesday. after that matchhad accused the British No. 1 – who hit him on the left leg with a powerful jab – of “dishonest play”.
Djokovic’s press conference interview also found him complaining about Nouri celebrating points too aggressively and calling for a medical time-out in what appeared to be a tactical moment. Djokovic wasn’t the only man to show hostility toward Lahyani.
Ron was furious when Lahiani insisted Djokovic’s return had landed on the baseline, resulting in his first fall of the match. “You’re an absolute joke,” Ron exasperated during the ensuing makeover.
Djokovic was clearly underlined in his sub-par performance in the 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 defeat. The result means he will go to Roland Garros without having a clay court semi-final behind him. Remarkably, this has only happened once before in his storied career, and that was in 2005, shortly after he turned eighteen.
Health issues seem to be affecting Djokovic. He was called to court by medical staff after three matches to administer painkillers, and he was still wearing the sleeve on the suspected right elbow that had kept him out of Madrid.
He’s generally less than his usual electric foot pace, especially during the first set, though his innate quality makes Ron still need to deliver a standout performance.
The surprise contributes to the impression that the upcoming French Open – which starts in Paris a week on Sunday – will be one of the most unpredictable majors in decades.
With Djokovic lacking his usual clinical edge, and Rafael Nadal having been absent from the tour since January, both Ron and Carlos Alcaraz (born a week apart in 2003) have emerged as the bookmakers’ favorites.
Their prospects were further diminished when Nadal announced that he would be holding a press conference on Thursday at his tennis academy in Los Angeles Mallorca. The expectation is that he will probably withdraw from Roland Garros.
The Italian Open was arguably Djokovic’s most successful event outside of the Grand Slam. He has six titles there, and 67 wins overall.
But the exit means Sunday’s final will be the first in Rome where neither Djokovic nor Nadal have participated since 2004. Djokovic was behind for the entirety of yesterday’s match, starting with a loss of serve.
Even the middle set, which he robbed for the run of play, featured some anomalies — including a contested line call that disrupted Ron’s focus, and an hour-long rain break.
When the players came back, Djokovic quickly got the two points he needed to complete the set. But he quickly fell back to a 0-4 deficit in the decider, as Ron turned to style.
It was a match full of incidents, including a 34 rally shot that the Amazon Prime commentary team immediately nominated as Point of the Year.
The surprising, groin-burning exchange ended, appropriately, with one of Ron’s many delightful shots – this one of a deadly doodle bug spinning sideways to escape Djokovic’s racket.
“I enjoyed every moment there,” said Ron. His apparent enjoyment of battle is part of a compelling package, and has brought him into conflict with a couple of players – most notably Stan Wawrinka and Casper Rudd – in the past.
However, he and Djokovic, who has beaten him twice in a row, seem to be getting along well, with Djokovic saying on Tuesday that Ron reminds him of his younger self.
Djokovic will return to No. 2 in the new world rankings on Monday, behind Alcaraz, while Ron will likely climb into the top five if he wins the event.
This result was another jolt in the gradual shift of the tennis tectonic plates. But while Djokovic has suffered some extraordinary defeats of late – 21-year-old Lorenzo Musetti in Monte Carlo, for example, or his compatriot Dusan Lajovic in Banja Luka – he’s a different animal in the big leagues, where he loves to play. The next generation is in their place.
The youngest player to defeat him in a slam is Hyun Chung of South Korea, who turns 27 this week. Away from the court, Djokovic has reportedly closed his tennis center in Belgrade after 15 years.
He hosted the Serbian Open there in 2021 and 2022, but only through a license leased to him by Romanian billionaire Ion Tiriac. Since then, Tiriac has demanded the license back.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray slipped to a 6-3, 6-0 defeat by Stan Wawrinka in the second round of the ATP Challenger Tour event in Bordeaux.
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