Novak Djokovic faces being labelled a "bad guy" for the rest of his career after his US Open disqualification for striking a line judge with a ball, and John McEnroe has told him he needs to embrace that role.
World number one Djokovic was 6-5 down in the first set of his fourth-round match against Pablo Carrena Busta on Sunday when he struck a ball in frustration as he headed back to his chair.
The wayward ball struck a female line judge in the throat and caused her to stumble to the floor, and although Djokovic pleaded with the officials, he was defaulted and disqualified from the competition.
It is the latest in a string of controversies involving Djokovic, who earlier this year attracted widespread criticism for the organisation of the Adria Tour event at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with the competition failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines and resulting in several players – including the Serbian – testing positive for COVID-19.
He has since announced plans to lead a breakaway union despite opposition from the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and McEnroe – who himself was depicted as something of an 'enfant terrible' during his playing days – thinks Djokovic has to accept his new-found villain status.
"The pressure just got to him. I think a lot has been going on off the court," four-time US Open winner McEnroe told ESPN.
"It's obviously affected him and whether he likes it or not, he's going to be the bad guy the rest of his career.
"If he embraces that role, I think he could recover. He's got a lot of things going for him, but this is a stain that he's not going to be able to erase."
But McEnroe, who was defaulted from the Australian Open in 1990 for three code violations in a single match, was scathing of Djokovic's decision to not hold a post-match media conference and instead apologise via social media.
"You've got to man up," the American added. "It made no sense to me. In the past I've seen him take responsibility when he's blown it. In this case it makes it even worse.
"So what if he apologised on Twitter... that's not good enough."