'Didn't want to play': Novak Djokovic rocked by devastating tragedy

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·4-min read
Novak Djokovic, pictured here in action against Lorenzo Sonego at the Erste Bank Open.
Novak Djokovic looks on during his loss to Lorenzo Sonego at the Erste Bank Open. (Photo by Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic has revealed the heartbreaking tragedy that played on his mind during his shock loss to Lorenzo Sonego at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna.

Sonego stunned the tennis world when he handed Djokovic the heaviest two-set loss of his career last week, thrashing the World No.1 6-2, 6-1.

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It was only Djokovic’s third loss of the year, after being disqualified for hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open and losing to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.

Djokovic looked a shadow of his normal self as he struggled to find any rhythm throughout the match, and he’s since explained what was going on.

The Serbian star said he was deeply affected by news of the death of Amfilohije Radović, the top cleric of the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

Radovic, 82, a fervent Serb nationalist who also wielded major political influence, was diagnosed with coronavirus on October 6 and had been hospitalised in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.

Djokovic learned of Radovic’s death just hours before his loss to Sonego.

“To be honest I didn’t want to play today,” Djokovic said after the match.

“This sad news has had an effect on me, but obviously not enough to force me not to play.

“The truth is that I came to Vienna with a goal and I managed to achieve it.”

Djokovic had met Radovic and said his death deeply affected him.

“Today is a very sad day,” he said.

“I had the great honour and privilege of meeting this man, spending time with him and feeling the beautiful energy he possessed and conveyed.

“Even if he is no longer with us physically, I am sure that his spirit will still be felt around us for a long time.

“I think we should remember him with a smile and be grateful for all he has done, especially recently with the political turmoil that has characterised Montenegro.

“There was a lot at stake, particularly with regard to the church and he was courageous and set an example of how to preserve and cultivate our cultural heritage and all our traditions.”

Lorenzo Sonego, pictuered here after handing Novak Djokovic his worst two-set loss ever.
Lorenzo Sonego handed Novak Djokovic his worst two-set loss ever. (Photo by GEORG HOCHMUTH/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Radovic’s death felt in Montenegro and Serbia

From last December until August this year, Radovic played a pivotal role in protests over a contested religion law in the tiny Adriatic country that is a member of NATO and a candidate for membership in the European Union.

The dispute over the law, which allowed the state to seize some religious property, helped the opposition win the August 30 parliamentary election and unseat the Democratic Party of Socialists of longtime President Milo Djukanovic.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Radovic still appeared regularly in public without a face mask.

So far, Montenegro has reported 290 deaths and 17,746 infections from the respiratory disease.

Novak and Jelena Djokovic, pictured here in Serbia during the Adria Tour.
Novak and Jelena Djokovic in Serbia during the Adria Tour. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

The Serbian Orthodox Church has about 12 million followers, mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, all former Yugoslav republics bordering each other.

Italian Sonego, who had initially lost in qualifying last weekend, became the first lucky loser ever to beat Djokovic and the magnitude of the win was almost unprecedented.

The only other time the 33-year-old Djokovic had won just three games in a match was at the 2005 Australian Open at the hands of Marat Safin in a best-of-five set encounter.

The defeat means Djokovic will have to wait longer before he completes the formality of equalling Pete Sampras’s all-time record of ending the season as world No.1 for a sixth time.

“He just blew me off the court, that’s all,” Djokovic said.

“He was better in every segment of the game. It was a pretty bad match from my side, but amazing from his side.”

with agencies

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