Despite his red-hot winning streak in 2020, a series of blunders have done Novak Djokovic’s reputation no favours.
He hosted the Adria Tour at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ignoring all social distancing precautions and only calling the exhibition event off when multiple players — including himself — tested positive for coronavirus.
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The world No. 1 voiced his scepticism over vaccinations, spruiked the ability to make polluted water drinkable with the power of the mind and on Monday, was disqualified from the US Open for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball.
Through much of the controversy Djokovic has courted, a similar theme has emerged in the aftermath.
After the Adria Tour was eventually cancelled, the Serbian offered his version of an apology but still pleaded his innocence by proclaiming he never meant to hurt anyone.
“I am so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm,” he said. “Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions.
“We believed the tournament met all health protocols and the health of our region seemed in good condition to finally unite people for philanthropic reasons.
“We were wrong and it was too soon.”
Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t avoid people just because they have a “pure heart and sincere intentions”.
Last month, Djokovic opened up to Christopher Clarey of the New York Times in an expansive piece designed to clear the air before he started his US Open campaign and the hunt for an 18th grand slam title.
He could have apologised profusely for the Adria Tour, but again, the 33-year-old refused to fall on his sword.
Why should Djokovic be blamed when his “intentions” were good?
“We tried to do something with the right intentions,” Djokovic said. “Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently, of course, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake?
“Whether it’s fair or not, you tell me, but I know that the intentions were right and correct, and if I had the chance to do the Adria Tour again, I would do it again.”
Djokovic seemed to do a little better after hitting the line judge in the throat. Although he bolted from Flushing Meadows without owning up to his mistake in front of the press, he released a statement on Instagram a few hours later that seemed genuine as he apologised for his brain snap.
However, we found ourselves in a similar place with another reference to the incident being “so unintended”.
It’s why Djokovic argued with officials planning to expel him from the tournament. He didn’t mean to floor the line judge — it was an accident — so why should he be punished?
What Djokovic hasn’t grasped amid all the criticism this year is “intentions” don’t count for much when the consequences of your actions are so hurtful — a point highlighted by tennis broadcaster Catherine Whitaker.
“I can’t help but hear Djokovic’s words in fact in the pre-tournament interview that Christopher Clarey did with him a couple of weeks ago,” she said on The Tennis Podcast.
“That was probably set up by Djokovic’s people or the ATP as Djokovic’s mea culpa about the Adria Tour … and him doing his version of holding his hands up and trying to put it to bed.
“Actually, he ended up coming off as defensive and focusing on the fact that he had good intentions.
“The fact that he had no ill intent, he only meant well.
“I don’t know whether it’s ironic or apt that his US Open bubble journey has come to an end with an incident which is defined by the fact that his intentions are irrelevant, were irrelevant.”
BBC tennis commentator David Law agreed, adding: “It’s another in a line of things like this where he hasn’t fully taken responsibility.”
Djokovic said on Monday he has a lot of learning to do. He might want to start with how noble “intentions” don’t absolve him of blame from his mistakes.