Novak Djokovic accused Cameron Norrie of “not fair play” after the British No1 landed a direct hit on his body with an overhead smash during a fractious match in Rome.
World No1 Djokovic declared himself perplexed by Norrie’s conduct during their round-of-16 meeting in Rome. The match looked routine on the scorecard – a 6-3, 6-4 victory for Djokovic – but featured plenty of incident along the way.
“It was not so much maybe about that,” said Djokovic of the body shot, “but it was maybe a combination of things. From the very beginning, I don’t know, he was doing all the things that were allowed. He’s allowed to take a medical timeout. He’s allowed to hit a player. He’s allowed to say ‘C’mon’ in the face more or less every single point from basically the first game.
“Those are the things that we players know in the locker room it’s not fair play,” added Djokovic. “It’s not how we treat each other. But again, it’s allowed, so …”
Norrie’s views on the match are not yet known, but it is possible that he might have felt disgruntled about Djokovic’s belated arrival on the court 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. This was the result of a niggle that Djokovic felt in his warm-up, which needed treatment.
There was an extra edge to the contest even before the direct hit, which took place midway through the second set. Djokovic glowered furiously in Norrie’s direction after a full-blooded smash struck him on the back of the left ankle/calf region.
From Norrie’s perspective, however, it could be argued that he was looking up at the ball – a gentle and juicy lob, right on top of the net – and thus might not have seen that his opponent was walking back to the service line, with no intention of continuing the rally.
While Norrie apologised at once, he did so briefly and then got on with his business. From the way Djokovic reacted, he had expected something more wholehearted. The next time the two men crossed paths, as they returned to their chairs for a changeover, he eyeballed Norrie again.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, provoking Djokovic is not generally advised. Although the direct hit allowed Norrie to score his sole break of serve in the match, Djokovic had soon re-established his advantage. He served out for the win in exactly 90 minutes, despite Norrie taking an injury time-out for a hip-flexor problem during the final changeover.
The two men did shake hands, but it was not the warmest of meetings at the net, and there was virtually no eye-contact.
“I did watch the replay when he hit me,” said Djokovic afterwards. “Maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately. I don’t know if he saw me. I mean peripheratically [sic] you can always see where the player is positioned on the court. The ball was super slow and super close to the net. I just turned around because the point was over for me.
“I get along with Cameron really well all these years that he’s been on the tour. Practised with each other. He’s very nice guy off the court, so I don’t understand this kind of attitude on the court, to be honest.
Djokovic, the defending champion in Rome, is thus through to a quarter-final. He will meet the exciting 20-year-old Danish prospect Holger Rune, who needed three sets to squeak past Australian Alexei Popyrin.
But even if Djokovic goes on to lift the title for an extraordinary seventh time, he is still guaranteed to lose the world No1 ranking to Carlos Alcaraz – who had suffered a shock defeat to world No135 Fabian Marozsan on Monday – at the end of this event.
“You could say that Cam had his eyes on the ball,” said Amazon Prime commentator Mark Petchey in his post-match analysis, “but as a tennis player you know where your opponent is in that situation. By the fact that he didn’t apologise twice, you kind of know he meant it.”
In the women’s event, Iga Swiatek scored her third successive straight-sets win as she eased past the 21st seed Donna Vekic to reach the quarte-finals. Tuesday’s 95-minute encounter with Vekic counted as a stern examination, by Swiatek’s recent standards. The world No1 dropped seven games in her 6-3, 6-4 victory, which is five more than she had given up in her previous two outings combined.