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Novak Djokovic Aims to Be All Business but Misses the Mark

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Even before he hit the errant ball that got him disqualified from the U.S. Open, Djokovic’s was creating frustration beyond the tennis court.
Shortly after arriving in New York last month, Novak Djokovic told me that he genuinely wanted to be here for the United States Open. He repeated it throughout his stay, which ended much earlier than expected on Sunday as the top-seeded Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round for unsportsmanlike conduct, after hitting a ball in frustration toward the back wall of the court, which struck a line judge in the throat. It was unintentional, no doubt, but it was also a rash move that a 33-year-old superstar, so accustomed to living and playing under the microscope, should have learned to avoid long ago. But Djokovic, the elastic winner of 17 Grand Slam singles titles who has proved himself to be the men’s game’s best competitor under pressure, remains a work very much in progress: capable of charm, magnanimity and deep reflection but also capable of turning too much of what he touches into ash. Despite his earnest attempts to find peace, commune with nature and heed his inner voice, Djokovic remains too often his own worst enemy. And if he truly aims to be beloved on the same scale as his career-long measuring sticks Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — something he refutes — he has had a rough few months. He has been spreading himself thin: serving as president of the ATP Player Council until the Sunday before the U. S. Open, when he and Canadian player Vasek Pospisil launched a new players’ association that the ATP Tour’s leadership views warily and which Federer, Nadal and numerous other leading players have chosen, for now, not to back. In truth, despite Djokovic’s affirmations, he seemed conflicted about this business trip to New York: He only decided to come last month after extensive negotiations with the U. S. Open organizers over everything from housing to entourage size to testing and quarantine protocols. Though sportswriters (and everyone else) should generally steer clear of armchair psychology, it was easy to see Sunday’s ill-timed burst of anger as a product of all that accumulated off-court tension. “If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root,” tweeted his wife Jelena Djokovic on Monday afternoon in Europe. “If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.” She was quoting “The Wisdom of Tao,” and though she did not mention her husband directly, the timing was certainly interesting.

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