Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Novak Djokovic, Pretender in Every Sense of the Word

I watched Roger Federer annihilate young up-and-comer Juan Martin del Potro, who must have felt hustled after a year of speculations that Federer's days of dominance were over. The straight-sets victory included two bagels, but the best part of the match was when the telecast turned to commentator Mary Joe Fernandez, who was merely spectating at the time.

Asked about Novak Djokovic's shameful retirement against Andy Roddick earlier that night, Fernandez, whose husband is Roger Federer's agent, claimed that Federer kind of expected it. Djokovic had last year retired against Federer at Monte Carlo, and then tried to explain to Federer that he had a sore throat. According to Fernandez, Federer, who has never retired mid-match in a professional tournament, thought that excuse was "a bit soft." It was not the sort of thing Roger would do. Nor Rafa.

In a post-match interview, Federer, speaking for himself, tried to be diplomatic, at first claiming he was surprised to see Djokovic retire. One question later, however, he seemed to change his mind. "It's happened before," he noted, pointing out the Monte Carlo match. "He's not the guy who's never given up before."

Despite Djokovic's bitter dismissal of Roddick's like accusations last year, this latest tapout, his fourth in a Grand Slam tournament, is his most suspect yet. While Djokovic, whose championship run last year included a breakthrough victory against a mononucleosis-ridden Federer, was determined to blame the oppressive heat and poor scheduling that left him inadequate time to recover from his last match, I can't help suspecting, considering his recent history with Roddick, that he was just determined not to be on the losing end of what would have been Roddick's biggest victory in years. But, no matter whether Djokovic's weakness is one of body or of character, retiring against the very guy who called him a faker last year is not the most dignified way to go out.

How quickly "the big four" is right back down to just Federer and Nadal.

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