Friday, January 30, 2009

Novak Djokovic Proves It Takes A Real Man To Whine Like A Little Girl

It is possible that when Novak Djokovic quit against Andy Roddick earlier in the week, it was the most courageous act of the young 2009 sports year.

Djokovic has a bit of history with retiring early from matches, at least 4 times in Grand Slams. He actually has the highest percentage of retirements to career losses among the top 10- nearly 10% of the time he loses because he quits. Perhaps he retired each time because of injury. Or perhaps he retired because he was losing.

He also has a history of calling the trainer out to get treatment during matches, something other players have expressed annoyance with. There is nothing illegal or unsportsmanlike about getting treatment, but it just seems like he happens to need it far more often than most guys.

So last year during the U.S. Open, Roddick came out and called Djokovic on all of this and said that Djokovic "is either quick to call the trainer, or he's the most courageous guy of all time," joking with the press that it could be any number of ailments, from shoulder, knee, ankle and back injuries, to SARS, anthrax or a commong cold. This after Djokovic said in an on-court, post match interview ealier in the tournament that he needed to stand next to the next so he wouldn't fall down. When Djokovic later beat Roddick in that tournament, he spoke live on the air and over the stadium P.A. and whined that Roddick had said those mean things and said that crushing Roddick as he had just done proves he didn't have those fake injuries. He was soundly booed by the New York crowd and ripped by the general media.

The irony of course, is that by playing "hurt" in one match and then playing brilliantly with no sign of injury the next match (like he had done here), it kinda proves that he was faking, right?

Then before this latest Grand Slam, Djokovic bristled at the (truly absurd) idea that Brit Andy Murray belonged on tennis' current Mount Rushmore alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. Let's be honest, Djokovic doesn't even belong there, and Murray sure as hell doesn't...the guy hasn't won anything yet. Murray has been in one Grand Slam final and he got crushed in straight sets. All of this is fine for me to say because I am not one of his opponents, and no one is reading this anyway.

But Djokovic couldn't resist and came out before the Australian Open and whined how offended he was that Murray was being called a favorite alongside himself, Federer and Nadal. Of course, Djokovic has won one Grand Slam (against a patsy in the final when Nadal and Federer had both been upset earlier) and his only other Grand Slam final looked a lot like Murray's: a straight-set crushing by Federer.

Anyway, after all of this, you would never think that Djokovic would ever have the guts to fake injury, ask for extra treatment, or certainly not retire early against Roddick again! And not in a Grand Slam where the true champions show their mettle!

This week Djokovic and Roddick faced each other in a Grand Slam for the first time since that U.S. Open match and the conditions were brutal. By the end of the match, the on-court thermometer showed about 136 degrees Fahrenheit (the air was actually about 95).

Djokovic came out well early and won the first set. Roddick took an early lead in the second and almost instantly Djokovic looked like the walking dead. I understand that it was hot, but it was hot on Roddick's side of the court as well. And it was hot on every other player who had been playing that day and that week. And these are supposed to be some of the finest athletes in the world!

So Roddick jumped all over Djokovic, winning the next two sets, with the Serb dragging himself around the court like he'd been shot for most of the time. He had a few extended breaks with the trainers coming out and putting ice on his neck and stretching his legs and shoulder. Roddick even drove the "you're a whiny girl" point home by standing in the sun, running place and keeping loose during one of Djokovic's "injury breaks." Then finally when the match was about to get out of hand, Roddick up 2-1 in the fourth and 2 sets to 1, Djokovic summoned all the courage he had in himself and disregarded that what he would do in the next 30 seconds would characterize himself for his entire career: he quit.

Federer, who is about as prone to smack talk as the Pope said after the match, "Well you know, it's not the guy who's never given up before...he gave up against me in Monaco last year because of a sore throat." After that sore throat match, Djokovic said in an on-court interview that he felt a little dizzy too. He said that he'd been checked by a doctor the day before and cleared, but that he thought the doctor's diagnosis was wrong, "obviously." He was booed off the court.

Federer went on to say, "If Novak were up two sets to love I don't think he would have retired 4-0 down in the fourth."

So the book is closed on this one. He may go on to one of the great champions of all time (once Federer and Nadal retire), or he may succumb to all these unnamed maladies. But either way, Novak Djokovic will very likely go down as one of the biggest whiners and quitters the sports has ever seen.

Stay tuned (in the middle of the night) Saturday for what is bound to be an epic final between two acutal champions, Nadal and Federer.

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