Thursday 10 September 2020

Life Lessons From Novak Djokovic's Disqualification From The 2020 US Open


The story made headlines around the world –

Novak Djokovic out of US Open after hitting line judge with a tennis ball - ESPN

Novak Djokovic hits a ball at US Open line judge - Telegraph UK

The great Novak Djokovic, a living legend of the game of tennis, had just been disqualified from the ongoing 2020 US Open tournament.

Novak Djokovic walking off the court
Novak Djokovic walking off the court after being disqualified from the US Open

Who is Novak Djokovic?

For the uninitiated, Novak Djokovic is currently the world number 1 ranked tennis player.  The 33-year-old Serbian who is a 17-time grand slam champion strides the world of tennis like a colossus. He is best known for his prolific drop shots and return of serve especially on the hard courts of tennis.

Djokovic stands head and shoulder above his fiercest rivals - Rafael Nadal (ranked number 2 in 2020 ATP rankings) and Roger Federer (ranked number 4 in the 2020 ATP rankings) 

And NO, the great tennis player was not defeated by an opponent in open play. He was disqualified for accidentally hitting one of the officials - the line judge - with the tennis ball on her neck

But surely, such an unintentional action could have been overlooked especially for such a great player like the 17-time grand slam champion! Alas! rules are rules even for the great Novak and he was shown the exit door out of the competition. 

Hear what the USTA -United States Tennis Association had to say about the incident:

Friemel (the officiating referee) defaulted Djokovic "in accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences."

His opponent - Pablo Carena Busta - got an easy qualification into the next round of the competition. 

And, he is not alone. Some years back, another legendary player in the women category – Serena Williams – who was chasing a personal ambition of equalling, was also disqualified for verbally assaulting an official over a poor decision. Poor Serena, her greatness notwithstanding, the official simply enforced the rules and she was booted out of that competition for that year.

...if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.

Life lessons from Novak Djokovic

1) Be humble enough to accept your mistakes

Novak Djokovic showed great strength of character by owning up and apologising for his error both onfield and later publicly on social media. On realising his mistake, his countenance changed and he immediately went over to apologise to the line judge who was holding her neck in pain

Novak Djokovic apologises to and checks to see if the line judge is okay
Novak Djokovic apologises to the line judge

Despite his fame and popularity, he laid aside ego and pride, chose to eat the humble pie, apologised and accepted the disqualification verdict of the umpire.

'I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour' - Novak Djokovic

2) Anger is very costly

Novak Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite to win the 2020 US Open. His closest rivals in persons of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were not competing in this year's tournament, hence Djokovic was the expected to claim the title.

Djokovic, however, was angry during the game - he had gotten off to a slow start, was making unforced errors and even slipped and hurt his shoulder at a time. To crown it off, he was trailing his opponent in that round.

In the heat of pressure and emotions, he hit the ball without looking towards the back of the court and it hit the line judge who immediately fell on the ground clutching her neck.

That moment of insanity put a stain on Djokovic's impeccable records, which would take a while to wipe off. It also cost him about $250,000 in prize money as well as forfeiture of ranking points! Unchecked anger is costly. Learn to control your anger.

If you cannot control your anger, you are as helpless as a city without walls, open to attack.

3) Turn your setbacks to spring backs

Perhaps the most important lesson to emulate from the world number 1 is his determination to turn this ugly episode in his career into a spring back. He took to his Instagram page after the incidence to pen the following:

As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being,” 

This is what distinguishes the boys from the men, the contenders from the champion - the attitude and mental strength to look within and make honest self-appraisals and corrections. The capacity to spot the silver lining in the dark cloud, to rise up when you fall, to turn disappointments into victories. I shared a personal experience here.

Rules of Engagement of Life

Like the game of tennis ( as any other structured sports), life itself has rules that govern the interactions of human beings. Almost every field of human endeavour is governed by a set of rules set up and enforced by a governing authority.

The universe itself is governed by a set of rules, set up and enforced by the creator of the universe – GOD Almighty. And like any inventor or manufacturer of a product, the Almighty has detailed the mechanisms and modus operandi of life in his operating manual. Ignorance of these mechanisms or rules of engagement of life is not an excuse and violation attracts consequences.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Some rules govern family, marriage, raising children, careers and business, politics and government, sports etc. The frustration experienced by most people in certain areas of life is simply because they are going against the rules of engagement of life either through ignorance or simply by wilful recalcitrance.

Some characteristics of rules 

1)      1)  They are set up by a governing body to guide the operations or interactions of people within the jurisdiction of the governing body, which is saddled with the responsibility of enforcing them.

2)     2They are usually documented and made available for all to see and know.

3)      3)    They offer rewards and sanctions/punishments/consequences for actions or inactions taken.

4)      4)      They offer predictable outcomes – if someone follows through the rules, there are often rewards and if another person violates them, he/she suffers the consequences.

5)      5)     Rules are levellers. They apply to all kinds of people in all kind of circumstances, their reputation or social status notwithstanding.

6)      6) Ignorance of rules within a specific jurisdiction is inexcusable and is often met with the appropriate sanction or punishment.

Final thoughts... 

Are you playing according to the relevant rules of life?

 In your marriage, are you playing by the rules? Do you realise that there are consequences for mistreating your spouse, your children? Are you relating according to the rules with your in-laws?

In your finances, are you playing according to the rules governing finances? Do you save, invest and give to the poor and less privileged?

In your health, are you playing according to the rules? Do you take adequate care of your body understanding that you are just a tenant in it? Or do you abuse it indiscriminately with drugs, alcohol, unhealthy foods? Do you exercise regularly as well as going for a regular medical check-up?

Do you realise that one day you would retire from active work, your body would not be strong enough to carry through and you will be unable to work and fend for yourself? Are you adequately preparing for that 'rainy' day? 

Do you realise that the real you – your soul which expresses your unique personality- is a tenant in your body and that one day the tenancy will expire and your soul will be evicted? Are you making adequate preparation for that day of eviction? 

Let's play the game of life according to its rules.


Novak Djokovic shook off the setback and disappointment of the US Open to clinch the Italian Open title. He did so in grand style by defeating Diego Schwartzman in straight sets of 7-5. 6-3 on Monday 21st September 2020. With this triumph. Djokovic won his 36th Masters title, surpassing the record he and Rafael Nadal once shared. He is currently in the quarter-finals of the ongoing French Open 2020!

That is the stuff Champions are made off. They turn their setbacks into springboards for success. Great job Djokovic!

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  1. Nice one Olumide. Very insightful observations and comments - Dipo

  2. This is a place you can relate with the life lessons being taught. Thanks Olumide

  3. A few years ago, Novak flung his racket in anger. Fotunately, nobody was hurt. Take near misses as warning signs.

  4. He was warned about his anger in 2016 and didn't accept it was an issue back then. Sadly, it has now cost him in this year's US Open. BUT he will bounce back, recover from it and will also win more titles.

    If you don't deal with your personal demons privately, they will eventually hurt you publicly.


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