A very tame Novak Djokovic lost in straight sets to Andy Roddick in Montreal yesterday. There was no preening and very little obsessive ball bouncing, instead there were a few looks of puzzlement towards his player’s box and an act of goodwill that might have come from overcompensation.
In the second set, Roddick hit a ball out that gave Nole a break of serve and a 4-1 lead. No celebrating with his player’s box for this version of Nole. He looked at the mark left by the ball then waved his racket to indicate to Roddick that he should challenge the out call. Roddick won the challenge and ended up winning the game. In the next game he broke Nole and the match was back on serve.
Normally I would applaud such an unusual act of goodness, but in Nole’s case he appears have lost his way on the journey towards finding a competitive personality he’s comfortable with. Yes he overreacted at the U.S. Open last year when Roddick tweaked him about his endless injury timeouts, but at least he beat him. Since then he’s lost all three of his matches against Roddick.
And now Nole has added Todd Martin, Mr. Nice Guy, to his team. I don’t remember what event it was but I distinctly remember Roddick sauntering to the net after a win over Martin only to be met with a lecture about his exuberant on-court behavior. First Nole gives Roddick a break, then he hires Todd Martin, and now he’s signed up to play doubles with Rafael Nadal next week in Cincy. What’s next, establishing a choir of ATP players to perform at charitable events? Babysitting for Roger Federer’s twins?
Look, Nole has a combative personality and a good sized ego and it served him well when he snarled his way to an Australian Open title. True, the crowd preferred his opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and they harassed his family, but ultimately the crowd goes with the winner. Trust me, they’d have come around if Nole had racked up another slam or two. A crowd can smell a poseur a mile away but if someone is constitutionally combative, they will learn to love him.
Right now Nole has to figure out who he is and I don’t know if Todd Martin has the answer for that. Nole’s advisors should find him a coach with a testy personality who encourages exuberant behavior such as this over-the-top turn on the fashion runway earlier this week in Montreal, someone who stands behind his guy, and someone who gives him room to regain some of his bad-boyness.