Novak Djokovic in bizarre new drama after US Open scandal

Novak Djokovic, pictured here at the Italian Open in Rome.
Novak Djokovic was questioned about not wearing a mask before being riled by crowd noise. Image: ESPN/Gety

Novak Djokovic was on his best behaviour as he made his return to the ATP Tour on Wednesday, however his match at the Italian Open wasn’t without drama.

The World No.1 eased past Italian wildcard entry Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2 in his first match since being disqualified for hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open.

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“I didn't feel that I had any mental or emotional blockages or any dramas playing a match today,” Djokovic said afterwards.

Djokovic, who had said he had learned a “big lesson” after the disqualification in New York, was keen to move on in Rome.

The 33-year-old playfully greeted an imaginary crowd in an empty stadium because of strict coronavirus measures.

His only testy moment came during the third game of the second set, which went to deuce seven times before Djokovic finally broke Caruso’s serve.

As the game wore on, Djokovic appeared bothered by crowd noise, despite the fact there wasn’t a crowd.

The only people inside the stadium were coaches and others working at the tournament.

“Which ones?” the umpire asked Djokovic, trying to figure out who was bothering him.

Djokovic replied: “There’s 10 people in the stands.”

The World No.1 later explained: “I don't know who it was, but it was noise coming from there during the points.”

“That’s the only thing that we, I and Caruso, also told chair umpire.”

Novak Djokovic, pictured here in action at the Italian Open.
Novak Djokovic in action at the Italian Open in Rome. (Photo by RICCARDO ANTIMIANI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The umpire also appeared to question Djokovic as to why he wasn’t wearing a mask as he made his way out onto the court.

Overall the top-ranked Serb was mostly courteous with the chair umpire during the dominant victory.

When the umpire came down to inspect a ball mark on the red clay early in the first set and made an overrule in Caruso’s favour, Djokovic just replied “Yup” and rubbed out the mark with his red sneaker.

When Caruso impressed him - the Italian hit 13 winners to Djokovic’s 12 - Djokovic said “Bravo.”

Djokovic continued where he left off before his US Open exit, having won the Cincinnati Masters on the same Flushing Meadows courts.

“It was a very good test for me. I'm very pleased with the way I handled myself in important moments,” said Djokovic, who has reached nine finals in Rome and won four.

Rafa Nadal makes dominant return

Meanwhile, defending champion Rafael Nadal made a winning return after six months away from the ATP Tour.

Nine-time winner Nadal swept aside fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in his first match in over six months, played behind closed doors at the Foro Italico.

The World No.2 has not played since winning in Acapulco at the end of February, opting to skip the US hard court tour amid coronavirus concerns.

“It was a good feeling going out there,” said 34-year-old Nadal.

“Not beautiful, the feeling playing without the spectators, because the energy of the fans is impossible to describe.

“But for me, at least, today was a very positive comeback. I played a very solid match and very serious and doing a lot of things very well, so very happy.”

Nadal only conceded one break point chance to his 18th-ranked rival who showed signs of tiredness having reached the semi-finals of the US Open.

Nadal is building towards his bid for a 13th French Open title, although he stressed: “I never take Rome like preparation for nothing else.”

with agencies