Cheers to tennis for dodging the easy ‘out’

Cheers to tennis for dodging the easy ‘out’

Though times admittedly have changed and we tend to be a little more forgiving of others, it still should be reasonable to assume those who play by the rules occupy a special place in our hearts. To my way of thinking, it’s kind of tough to respect anyone who chooses to avoid or circumvent the principles of fair play.

This is particularly true when it comes to competitive sports.

Not that professional tennis star Novak Djokovic was out to cheat anyone. Often affectionately referred to as “The Joker,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner is, plain and simple, anything but a cheater.

Yet his actions on the court late in the opening set of a round-of-16 match forced officials at the U.S. Open in New York to send the tournament’s No. 1 seed in the men’s draw packing prematurely.

They had no alternative, and Djokovic knew it, which is why he put up only a trifling plea not to be disqualified after a tennis ball he struck out of frustration inadvertently struck a line judge — positioned well beyond the baseline — in her throat.

Djokovic immediately went to the woman’s aid, making an attempt to console her as she showed signs of obvious pain while attempting to regain her breath. Ultimately, she was unable to continue her role on the court, which was the determining factor in the Serbian player being defaulted. Spanish opponent Pablo Carreno Busta was declared the victor.

After congratulating Busta and acknowledging the chair umpire, Djokovic departed the scene and the grounds without speaking to members of the media. Later, he would turn to social media to voice his wholehearted apology to the bruised line judge, the Open and tennis as a whole, and his fans, saying the incident left him “sad and empty.” He added the scenario would cause him to take a more in-depth look at how in the future he would handle his frustration on the court.

While far from a volatile John McEnroe or Ilie Nastase, Djokovic has been known to publicly release his impulsive emotions in the heat of battle. Even earlier in the very match from which he was defaulted, he had whacked a couple of balls toward the wall at the side of the court where photographers traditionally are seated.

However, it was pure happenstance that later, the ball he zipped toward the baseline struck the line judge. Djokovic’s shots may be among the most precise in the game but never would he or could he intentionally aim to harm an official, fan or any other innocent bystander.

So was the default excessive punishment? Intent, or the lack of it, had nothing to do with the final decision. It was the “reckless” nature of the player’s behavior that deprived him of the opportunity to keep on playing in a tournament most of the experts agree he was in position to win.

The justification for the penalty was there in print, as black and white as the 88 keys on a Steinway & Sons Alma Tadema.

Kudos to the USTA officials for sticking to their guns and not “going soft” on Djokovic simply because he was the most marquee competitor still alive in the draw.

More than just the ripest sports story on an otherwise mundane Sunday, and in a much larger sense, kudos, also, to tennis for not acquiescing simply because of the offending individual’s fame, social standing and popularity.

Even a high-tech, automated linesman would have ruled that an easy “out.”

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