Novak Djokovic under fire over 'unacceptable' ball kid incident

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Novak Djokovic, pictured here almost wiping out a ball kid with his racquet.
Novak Djokovic almost wiped out a ball kid with his racquet. Image: Twitter/Getty

Novak Djokovic is once again at the centre of controversy in the tennis world after almost striking a ball kid with his racquet in the Serbia Open final.

Djokovic's title drought in 2022 continued on Sunday as he went down 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 6-0 to Andrey Rublev in the final on his home court in Belgrade.

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Playing his second tournament on clay this season after being knocked out by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Monte Carlo earlier this month, Djokovic was off to a slow start as second seed Rublev broke him twice to clinch the opening set 6-2 at the Novak Tennis Centre.

Cheered on by a capacity crowd, the World No.1 raised his game in the second set to take the tie-breaker despite earlier squandering five set points on the Rublev serve.

Djokovic has missed a chunk of the season so far, including the Australian Open and Masters 1000 events in Miami and Indian Wells, because to his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19 - and his lack of match practice showed in the deciding set as he suffered an embarrassing bagel.

And the World No.1's frustrations boiled over when he threw his racquet and nearly struck a ball kid in the final set.

Djokovic's racquet flew out of his hand and nearly wiped out the ball kid at the net after he stretched to retrieve a ball on his forehand side.

While some defended Djokovic and claimed he was merely trying to hit the ball at full stretch, photos of the incident appear to tell a different story.

Novak Djokovic, pictured here throwing his racquet in the Serbia Open final.
Novak Djokovic was nowhere near the ball when he threw his racquet. (Photo by PEDJA MILOSAVLJEVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Getty photos captured the exact moment and show Djokovic nowhere near the ball, appearing to suggest he threw the racquet in frustration.

Leading tennis writer Ben Rothenberg was among the many to condemn Djokovic.

"Good news is he got lots of time on court this week after depriving himself of it, playing for over 10 hours in his four matches," Rothenberg tweeted.

"Bad news is that he - like others on ATP - still has a real problem with launching reckless projectiles in anger that hit/nearly hit folks."

Other fans described the incident as "unacceptable" and "disturbing".

Novak Djokovic 'ran out of gas' in Serbia Open final

Djokovic later admitted he "ran out of gas" due to his lack of match practice, playing in just his fourth tournament of the year.

But despite the 20-time grand slam champion being let down by his lack of physical form, he remains upbeat for his bid to capture a third French Open crown.

"Things are progressing slowly but surely, Paris is the big goal and hopefully by Paris I'll be ready," he said.

Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev, pictured here with their trophies after the Serbia Open final.
Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev pose with their trophies after the Serbia Open final. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

The 34-year-old, who lost in the quarter-finals in Dubai and suffered a shock second-round defeat in Monte Carlo, battled past Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov in three sets before the court time caught up with the top seed against Rublev.

"I have to look at the positives, playing the final in front of my home crowd, it was unfortunate that in the third set I ran out of gas and couldn't deliver more of a fight," said Djokovic.

"After four three-set battles I can say that I am tired but also pleased that I managed to win the matches prior to this one.

"I think that will serve me for the continuation of the clay court season."

with AAP

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