It was a month ago. And one day. On September 6, in New York, Novak Djokovic offered despite himself what will remain as one of the images of the year in tennis. For throwing a ball at a linesman and hitting her in the face, even unwittingly, the world number one was disqualified. This incident may have, probably even some say, deprived him of an 18th Grand Slam title, which he hopes to win here in Paris.
Obviously, 31 days later, Djokovic digested. After leaving New York, he resumed his infernal march forward, as if nothing had happened. Winner in Rome of his only preparation tournament before Roland-Garros, he has been treading on his opponents since his arrival on French clay. Assessment since his disqualification, which Boris Becker, his former coach, had described as “the worst moment of his career”: eight matches, eight wins, 23 sets played, 22 won.
Djokovic: “I don’t feel I have been disturbed”
“I am absolutely amazed to see how he turned the page“, admits Alex Corretja. The Spaniard, former world number 2 and consultant for Eurosport, it was not necessarily won. Even for the Djoker:”He had to deal with a lot of things. The negative comments, his damaged image, the loss of a possible new Grand Slam title. And he returned to Europe, began his preparation on clay and won in Rome in stride. It shows that Djokovic may be even stronger mentally than we thought. It’s huge, really.”
“I don’t feel like I was emotionally disturbed by what happened in New York, also judged the Serbian ten days ago when he arrived in Paris. I’m not going to go after myself. What is done is done. Of course, it was a shock for me but it does not impact the way I play or even behave. In Rome, I expressed myself, I clenched my fist, I also expressed my frustration sometimes.“In short, Djokovic was Djokovic. As if nothing had happened.
If Djoko pulled the pin that day, it’s Carreno’s fault
Even if this incident will stick to his skin. On Monday, in his round of 16 against Karen Khachanov, one of his balls hit a linesman again. But in the continuity of the game, this time. There was obviously no intention, and no grounds for sanction. But this micro-incident, because there was New York, took on a different echo. Djokovic himself agrees:
It was a funny deja vu … Obviously, people are going to make a fuss about it because of what happened in New York. But it’s happened to me and a lot of other players in the 15 years I’ve been on the tour. I saw a lot of balls ricocheting off the racket frame and hitting someone in the stands or a line judge. But it was indeed a strange situation.
The other nod to the events of September 6 on Arthur-Ashe court is the reunion with Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard was his opponent that day. The only one, in 2020, not to have completed a match against Djokovic beaten, failing to be really victorious. Not really a win, then, but this first set at Flushing still gave Carreno an interesting base. We tend to forget it, but if Djokovic pulled out that day, it was first of all because he had all the trouble in the world to get out of it.
Carreno Busta has returned to his New York form
PCB was certainly light years away from having won this round of 16, he didn’t even have the first set in his pocket yet (it was going to be used to win this one when Djokovic was disqualified), but there is had match. And in this Roland-Garros, he seems to be riding his good American dynamic, even if he admits to having arrived on tiptoe. “At the start of the tournament, I was not in the best of my form, because I had not trained enough on gravel, due to lack of time, he explains. But over the matches, I regained my confidence on the court. Against Altmaier, I played at a very good level. I felt very good.”
So Novak Djokovic knows what to expect. More than Khachanov, whose power he annihilated with ease in the previous round, the Carreno Busta equation, while far from insoluble, is perhaps the most complex he has had to solve, provided the Spaniard be rid of his stomach ache. “He is a very complete player, extremely solid, considers the world number one. I think he has improved a lot in the last 12 or 15 months, on all surfaces. He’s raising well, he’s putting the pressure on and I think the conditions here are fine for him because the ball doesn’t bounce very high, and he’s playing fairly flat on both sides. He likes slower surfaces.”
Despite everything, the man with 35 wins in 36 matches this year will have, as always, the keys to the debate. Djokovic remains his main, if not his only opponent. Here is Paris. And New York and its turpitudes, despite the inevitable echo offered by this quarter-final, already seem far away.