Two champions made critical errors on Sunday but did they handle them the same way?
Novak Djokovic is the king of Flushing Meadows, the venue of the US Open, having won it on a record number of occasions. But on Sunday evening, in the first tennis major to be held after the worst of the Coronavirus inspired lockdown ended, he hit a ball in anger that went to knock down a lineswoman. As a result, the tennis star from Serbia was automatically defaulted from the match and the incident became the biggest talking point in the sports world after major tournaments have restarted. Now, even a cursory viewing of the incident will show a casual observer that Djokovic meant no malice towards the lineswoman or any other official. He was just angry at himself as athletes tend to be at times. Yet, the rules are clear and no matter how accidental the incident was, Djokovic, like a player who did a deliberate act, will pay an awful price. Because the incident was not deliberate, he escaped any monetary or playing sanctions. However, this means he has lost an opportunity to win his 18th major and keep his rankings. It also means that high performance sports exert unimaginable pressure and a split second’s callousness can be costly.
Earlier on Sunday, another champion, Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton made an unintended error. His mistake hurt none physically but as a result he had to lose an almost certain win and had to make way for a new winner in Frenchman Pierre Gasly. Hamilton handled his disappointment like a champion, making no excuses for his mistake once he understood why he was penalised. Part of that is the difference between the two men; Hamilton is comfortable in his skin with nothing left to prove while Djokovic will always be the third wheel in the Federer-Nadal duopoly. That is the fate of the two men but should sanctions in sport be so strict? That is an open question but as we all know, once the rules are bent for one infraction, they can be bent for all. After all there is always a mitigating factor for any action. Life does not work like that and sport at its essential level is nothing but a reflection of life.