Novak Djokovic’s wife broke her silence as a close friend made some stunning revelations about the world number one tennis star.
Many were happy to write off Novak Djokovic’s US Open default as incredibly bad luck — those close to him aren’t so sure.
Two of the women who know Djokovic best have revealed their fears for the Serbian superstar after his US Open brain snap cost him a shot at his 18th grand slam title.
The world No. 1 was sensationally disqualified from the tournament on Monday for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball after he reacted angrily to going down a break in the first set of his fourth round clash with Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic has never attracted the same affection as his biggest rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and critics rightfully took aim — both for his on-court behaviour and the way he fled Flushing Meadows without facing the press and owning up to his mistake.
Aided by a sycophantic fan base known as “Nolefam”, who defend their man to the hilt on all matters and attack anyone who dares criticise him, Djokovic is a protected species in his homeland.
But even some of his closest allies know something needs to give. That was evident when Djokovic’s wife Jelena took to social media overnight to quote The Wisdom of Tao.
“If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are,” she wrote.
Even more revealing were comments made by former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova on Amazon Prime UK’s broadcast of the US Open.
The 37-year-old is extremely close with Djokovic and his wife, and is also tight with his coach Marian Vajda, a fellow Slovakian. Hantuchova has known Djokovic since his early days on tour and is a huge supporter, but she wasn’t afraid to tell him some harsh truths.
She said the 17-time major winner has an anger management problem and needs to seek professional help. Hantuchova added an incident like what we saw in New York was a long time coming and Djokovic has nobody to blame but himself.
“It feels like sometimes the anger comes out of control,” Hantuchova said.
“I care so much about him and respect everything he is doing for our game, but I just hope there is a lesson to be learned, even if this one came at the worst possible time, where pretty much the only thing standing between him and an 18th grand slam title was himself, with all my respect to the other players.”
Hantuchova echoed the sentiment of Jelena Djokovic’s quote, saying the star was spreading himself too thin and ruining his good intentions with poor timing.
“So many times he has the right intentions, it’s just with the timing he’s not getting it right, like the Adria Tour,” Hantuchova said. “There’s no problem with running an exhibition tour like that, just not when the whole world stops. Same with the ATP stuff. Sure things need to change, but not right now.”
REALITY CHECK LEAVES HOSTS ‘TAKEN ABACK’
Hantuchova’s honest reaction had an impact on broadcaster Catherine Whitaker, who was hosting Amazon’s coverage alongside the former star when she made those comments.
Whitaker said if anyone understands what Djokovic has gone through, rising from a talented kid in war-torn Serbia to the world’s best player with a bloody-minded desire to win, it’s Hantuchova. But even aware of his unique context, she wasn’t prepared to cut him any slack.
“When she reeled it all off for me I was so taken aback because, as you say she does have a relationship with Novak Djokovic. She’s very close to his coach Marian Vajda, he’s a fellow Slovakian, and she has a relationship also with Novak Djokovic’s wife Jelena,” Whitaker said on The Tennis Podcast.
“She thinks a lot of them and understands them (Djokovic’s family and friends).
“She understands every bit of that (his upbringing) and the significance of it in his psyche, potentially.
“But having said all of that, she was pulling no punches with regards to how she saw the incident. She said this has been a very long time coming and she said he has an anger problem and he needs to seek some sort of anger management help.
“She said it’s entirely normal for tennis players to have difficulty controlling their emotions and holding back feelings of anger on a tennis court.
“She said Roger Federer had that … he was a total hot-head until he was 18, 19, maybe even a little bit older and he recognised that was not viable if he wanted to be everything that he could be.
“She had absolutely no clemency at all for his failure to front up afterwards. She said that’s cowardice, that’s the opposite of leadership and he should be ashamed of himself.”
BBC commentator David Law was also taken aback by Hantuchova’s refreshing honesty for someone so embedded in Team Djokovic.
“It really made me think about things in a slightly different way, particularly Daniela Hantuchova,” Law told The Tennis Podcast.
“I found her contributions just really fascinating, I think partly because I know she knows Novak Djokovic pretty well and certainly is very well known to Marian Vajda — they get on well, don’t they.
“I found Daniela’s view on all of that really something to behold and I wasn’t expecting it either.
“I feel like it’s those kinds of conversations that Novak Djokovic would love to take to heart, really, because she’s certainly not out to get him, not in any way. She wants what’s best for him, I’m sure of that.”
NOVAK’S TIMING IS ALL WRONG
Djokovic has regularly pointed to having the right “intentions” when backtracking from a series of missteps this year. He used that line when responding to criticism of the Adria Tour, an exhibition tournament he hosted without any social distancing measures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He used it again in an interview before the US Open to explain why he shouldn’t be blamed for players and coaches contracting coronavirus during the event, and trotted the same reasoning out after hitting the line judge, saying in his apology the incident was “so unintended”.
It’s a line that was worn thin with many as Djokovic lurched from one controversy to the next in 2020, even as his results continued to shine.
Recently Djokovic has put himself in the middle of a civil war by splitting from the ATP Players’ Council and starting the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), because he has lost faith in the sport’s governing body.
Both Federer and Nadal have opposed the move, arguing tennis doesn’t need more division when it is trying to stabilise from the devastating effects of COVID-19.
Hantuchova used this case as an example where, while Djokovic believes his intentions are pure, he has completely misread the room when it comes to the appropriate course of action to take — much like what happened with the Adria Tour.
“She mentioned in that chat that he keeps mistiming things and she referenced the Adria Tour as an example that, yeah, he really wanted to do a good thing but he got it all wrong,” Law said.
“(Hantuchova said) The Professional Tennis Players Associations comes from a good place on a certain level, wanting to do things for lower ranked players and thinking that players aren’t getting enough of the pie … but it’s not the right time for that when the tour is trying to rebuild itself.
“I found all of that almost quite a relief, that somebody that relevant and close to him, and somebody so understanding of him, felt as strongly about it.”