Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic hits out at cheating claims
Defending champion accused of getting tips from coach Boris Becker during matches
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic tries to shoo a bird from the court during his men’s singles first round match against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships. Photograph: Glyn Kirk
First days and even first weeks can be like a procession of champions tramping down the wannabes.
The top seeds and celebs took comfort from that on opening day, with Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Milos Raonic, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka all successfully protecting their positions in tricky, nervous, fraught opening matches.
Djokovic, making it look unexceptional and stress-free, got his man Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, before he really had to step up his defensive game. That came in the press room after his match.
There had been a lingering sense of unfinished business over the growing concern that players are regularly communicating with their coaches during matches, which is strictly prohibited in tennis.
Communicate tacticsBoris Becker
Becker didn’t defend the behaviour but appeared to believe that because he felt it was widespread among players and their teams in grand slam events that it was not a case of cheating. In January, Becker even revealed that the Serb’s team speak to the world number one in their own language to avoid detection.
“During a match the referee obviously watches me carefully and I can’t do a lot,” said Becker. “But there are people with me and they can use some Serbian dialect to let him know what I want. That works pretty well.”
Djokovic, who this year is hoping to equal Becker’s record of three Wimbledon titles, said it was not coaching that was taking place but encouragement.
Section VIII (i) of the ATP Rule Book states that “players shall not receive coaching during a tournament match. Communication of any kind, audible or visible, between the player and coach can be construed as coaching.”
Misconstrue, however, and the players tend to get angry. Yesterday the whole issue blew up as older footage was again examined and members of the Djokovic team were seen to be shouting to him in Serbian.
The player was again asked to explain what was taking place.
“I’m just trying to figure out what you want to achieve with this story,” said the reigning champion. “I don’t understand what you really want. Do you want to say I’m cheating, my team? I’m really trying to figure out what’s behind this.
“I mean, are you asking only me or are you asking other players as well?”
In the past, Rafa Nadal and his coach and uncle, Toni, have been pulled up for the same thing, while Sharapova was asked about the issue some years ago at the US Open.
There were suggestions that Sharapova’s entourage had been, rather bizarrely, holding up pieces of fruit to pass her messages during the match.
She sharply retorted that, “my life is about more than a banana”. Oddly, that seemed to work.
One of the leading American coaches, Nick Bollettieri, also admitted to having advised his players in the past by using the signals of touching his sunglasses, rubbing his nose, or by shouting out code words, and that “anyone in tennis who doesn’t think it happens should open their eyes and ears”.
In 2010 illegal coaching was discussed at the All England Club after Nadal, then the world number one, received an official warning from the umpire for supposedly receiving advice from his uncle during his five-setter against Philipp Petzschner, of Germany.
Like Djokovic, Nadal said it was not coaching taking place, but encouragement.
“Yes, I understand,” said an exasperated Djokovic. “But, I mean, I got this question already two times in the last couple days. I don’t understand what I can say, what I haven’t said already before. I’m going to repeat myself.
Within the rules
“If I am breaking any rules or my team does, I would be fined for that, right? The chair umpire would say, coaching penalty, and that’s it. Or the supervisor, or whoever.
“Of course, I accept the fact if my coach, Boris or Marian [Vajda, Djokovic’s mentor], do say something that is against the rules, I have no complaint about the code violation that I get for coaching. So, I mean, I’m completely fine by that. I just don’t understand why this same story is repeating over and over for days.”
It was explained to Djokovic, the questions are arriving because Becker described a system that appeared to be contrary to the rule in the ATP handbook .
“He said it once . . . Anyway, then you can talk to him about it, if he’s willing to talk more about it,” said the player. “But I’m honestly not.”
Djokovic moves forward with every whisper and glance from every player likely to be parsed and questioned.
Not so, however, Lleyton Hewitt. The 34-year-old Australian and winner in 2002, played his last Wimbledon after losing to Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen 3-6 6-3 4-6 6-0 11-9. He will retire after next year’s Australian Open in Melbourne.