Novak Djokovic in tense umpire exchange in Italian Open return

Novak Djokovic was spotted exchanging words with a chair umpire as he made his return to tennis for the first time since his US Open disqualification.

The World No. 1 got off to a winning start at the Italian Open, advancing to the third round of the clay-court tournament in Rome with an easy 6-3 6-2 win over Italian wildcard entry Salvatore Caruso.

However, there was one brief moment where the 33-year-old showed signs of the demons that derailed his US Open campaign earlier this month.

Djokovic earlier this week spoke out for the first time since he walked out of Flushing Meadows without speaking to the press after he was defaulted for striking line judge Laura Clark with a ball hit in frustration.

The same frustrated expression crept across Djokovic’s face early in the second set against Caruso after the Serbian star appeared to be bothered by voices coming from inside the stadium.

The event is being played behind the scenes without spectators this year because of the coronavirus pandemic — but Djokovic was still unhappy with some of the murmurings he says he could hear from the court.

Djokovic appeared to complain to the chair umpire while Caruso served early in the second set — a service game that had seven deuce points before Djokovic eventually pulled off the break of serve.

“Which ones?” the chair umpire was heard responding.

Novak Djokovic’s temperature was rising.Source:Getty Images

Djokovic replied sharply: “There’s 10 people in the stands” — a reference to the tournament officials and guests of players allowed inside the venue.

However, the smile was back on his dial by the time he ran away with the second set to move through to the round of 16 where he will play fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic for a place in the quarter-finals.

Djokovic even completed his traditional post-match celebration where he showed his affection for the court and those inside it.

He revealed in his post-match press conference he was thrown off by a group of people talking audibly at the back of the stands.

“It was very, very quiet, which is very unusual to what we are used to here in Rome, which has one of the loudest and most energetic crowd atmospheres on the tour,” Djokovic said.

“But there was somebody in the corridor of the stadium that was talking — about five, six people.”

The eerily quiet scene caught him off guard.

“I miss the crowd,” he said.

“Italy has a nice tennis tradition and this tournament has been around for many years. It’s a little strange.”

Djokovic said earlier this week he was just grateful for the chance to get back on court in a bid to put his US Open meltdown behind him.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was smiling by the end.Source:AFP

“Of course it was very hard for me to accept right after it happened,” he said before the match.

“For a couple of days I was in shock, and I was shaken by the whole default thing.

“I checked with Laura after the match. She said that she was fine. No big injuries.

“But, yeah, I mean, it was totally unexpected and very unintended, as well, of course to hit her.

“But as I said, when you hit the ball like that, as I hit it, you know, you have a chance to hit somebody that is on the court.

“The rules are clear, so I accepted it, and I had to move on. I have my first chance here in Rome.”

Djokovic was unbeaten in 2020 before his dramatic last 16 default in New York.

He is looking to carry that winning form into the French Open, beginning on September 27 at Roland Garros.

French Open champion Rafael Nadal was also among the victors on Thursday, winning his first match in over six months since the spread of the pandemic shut down the ATP Tour.

The nine-time Rome winner came through 6-1 6-1 against 18th-ranked Carreno Busta, a recent semi-finalist at the US Open.

“It was a perfect start for me. It was solid, good shots on the forehand and backhand. I didn’t expect to play that well,” Nadal said.

“Maybe Pablo was a little bit tired from a great tournament there in New York, but thinking about myself, I played a very solid match and very serious and doing a lot of things very well. So very happy.”

The world number two has not played since winning in Acapulco at the end of February, opting to skip the US hard court tour because of coronavirus concerns.

— with AFP

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