OPINION: Why Novak Djokovic deserves a second chance
A FEW weeks ago I sat courtside at a Maryborough junior tennis event where Robert Barty, father of legendary Ash, was watching young players compete.
He never expected her to be number one in the world.
The only expectations he has ever had of the 24-year-old was that she would strive be a good person.
I've had many different feelings watching the saga of Novak Djokovic's expulsion from the US Open unfold this week.
His disqualification came about after he unwittingly struck a tennis ball behind him, into a lineswoman's throat.
My initial reaction was one of disgust for his arrogance.
The fact that this very issue was raised with him years ago by reporters - his tendency to slam tennis balls wherever he likes without much thought of where they might land.
His response, which was to openly dismiss the question, was frustrating.
It is this type of arrogance that has followed Djokovic throughout his career, from starting a rival tennis union to contracting COVID-19 after organising a tennis exhibition series in the middle of the pandemic.
The fact that he did not face the press in the aftermath of his disqualification but chose to release a statement instead also seemed to suggest something about his character.
The contents of his apology however, made me think again.
It was heartfelt.
All traces of arrogance were gone and it appeared clear he had reflected on what had happened and realised being disqualified from a slam he would almost certainly have won was entirely his own fault.
There are not many things in life we can control.
Mr Barty's words made me think about that.
We can all train hard.
We can hit a million tennis balls, like Ash has over the years.
It doesn't mean we will be the best in the world.
It doesn't mean we will hold a trophy aloft on the world stage one day.
Many have tried and failed after devoting their entire lives to a sport.
One of the few things we can control is how we deal with adversity.
We can control whether the way we deal with it is positive or negative.
Djokovic's reaction to losing a point that day was to carelessly smash a ball behind him.
Yes, he was frustrated.
But it was someone else who paid the price of the anger he was feeling when he refused to change his behaviour, when he took the risk of smashing a ball not knowing where it would land.
For Djokovic and the lineswoman, this was their place of work.
It is behaviour that would not be tolerated in any workplace, even if he did not intentionally hit her with the ball.
It was his behaviour and his alone that cost him the chance to claim his 18th grand slam.
Yet I feel sorry for him.
This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So… https://t.co/UL4hWEirWL— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) September 6, 2020
I am glad that the lineswoman who was struck is fine.
But I wonder if, amid the fallout that has encompassed the man, the tournament, the sport and his legacy, Djokovic is fine.
I suspect his isn't.
He's learned a very hard lesson in a very difficult way and he has paid dearly for his arrogance.
If Ash Barty's dad taught me anything during our chat that day, it was the importance of humility, of trying to do our best - even if we fail sometimes.
We live in an age of cancel culture.
People do something wrong and their career is permanently damaged and in some cases, over.
I strongly disagree with that mentality - not because Djokovic is a champion tennis player, but because he is just human.
People can learn from their mistakes and they should be given second chances - we've all needed one at some point.
I hope Djokovic will bounce back from this having learned a very difficult lesson.