Novak Djokovic resurfaced in Rome yesterday, full of regrets but unable to assure that he would not ever hit a line judge with a stray ball again.
The world No 1, back in action at the Italian Open on clay this week, admitted his occasionally volcanic on-court nature means he sometimes struggles to control his emotions.
Another admission was that Dominic Thiem, crowned US Open champion after a dramatic fifth-set tiebreak win over Alex Zverev in Sunday night’s final, is now a huge danger to the longstanding supremacy of the ‘Big Three’.
World number one Novak Djokovic has accepted his US Open disqualification last month
The Austrian brought a nervy and sometimes turgid final to a rousing climax when he edged out his German opponent 8-6 in tennis’s answer to a penalty shootout.
Djokovic (above), however, had to rake over another memory of a historically strange Grand Slam: his fourth-round default when he swiped a ball that hit line judge Laura Clark in the throat.
‘I understand I have outbursts and this is the personality and the player that I have always been,’ he said. ‘I cannot promise or guarantee I will never ever do anything similar to that in my life. I am definitely willing to try my best so that something like that never happens again.’
He also conceded that he had flirted with the same outcome before with similar flashes of temper.
Djokovic was booted out of the US Open for striking a line judge in the throat with a ball
‘It’s the first time in my career that something like this happens — of course it could have happened earlier in my career or could have happened to many players. The ball hits a line judge, it was just unfortunate that I hit the umpire in a very awkward place.
‘I checked on Laura after the match. She said she was fine, that there are no injuries.
‘I felt really sorry to cause the shock and drama to her. She didn’t deserve that in any way. She was obviously volunteering as well and doing her work. The rules are clear so I accepted it, I had to move on. Of course, I have not forgetten about it. I don’t think I will ever forget about it.
‘These things stay in your memory for the rest of your life, but I don’t think I will have any issues coming back to the tour and being able to perform well.’ The US Open was not only a golden chance missed for Djokovic, 33, to add to his 17 major titles, it also allowed — finally — someone from a younger generation to bolster the challenge to the established order.
Djokovic was immediately disqualified after the incident and the Serbian accepted this charge
Thiem, sensing the chance of a first Grand Slam at 27 after three previous finals, was desperately nervous before squeezing out Zverev, and needed the help of two double faults from his opponent in the tiebreak.
But Djokovic acknowledged that now the Austrian is over the hump, he will be more dangerous, starting with the French Open which begins on September 27.
‘It will be a huge relief,’ said the Serb. ‘I remember my first Grand Slam title, getting that monkey off of your back. After that, you start believing in yourself much more and feeling maybe a bit less pressure and expectation on yourself to win Slams.
‘Both of those guys possess huge tennis quality on all surfaces to win titles. We have Roland Garros in a couple of weeks’ time and Dominic is right behind Rafa (Nadal) on clay as the favourite.’
Nadal returns to action this week for the first time since February as players make an abrupt switch from hard court to clay.
Djokovic (right) also admitted he phoned line judge Laura Clark (middle) to check she was fine