When a man’s gotta go, a man’s gotta go.
Novak Djokovic was accused of ignoring the chair umpire to take a toilet break midway through the first set of his opening round win against Spain’s Roberto Carbales Baena on Tuesday night.
Whether it was too much coffee before the late-starting encounter or the excitement of being treated like a god on his return to Melbourne Park, Djokovic suddenly felt nature calling after just the fifth game of the match.
After grabbing his towel at the change of ends, Djokovic turned and said “I’m going to the toilet” in the chair umpire’s direction.
She apparently didn’t hear and Djokovic was forced to say “hello” three times to get her attention.
“I’m going to the toilet,” he repeated.
After a response that was inaudible to viewers but appeared to be heard by Channel 9’s commentary team, Djokovic paused and then turned and ran out of the arena.
“He needs to go to the toilet? After five games?” Nine commentator and tennis great John Fitzgerald said.
“Well I think he’s actually just pulled rank there as well,” Aussie tennis legend Mark Woodforde added. “I think the official was trying to pull him back.”
“He’s just run off the court,” Fitzgerald replied.
The chair umpire, seemingly agitated, jumped immediately on her internal communication device to speak to the official who had followed Djokovic backstage.
“He’s gone off without permission, it seems,” Fitzgerald continued. “I mean, 3-2 in the first set?”
The chair umpire called time and Djokovic returned to the court apparently in time to avoid a penalty.
Tennis fans were split over Djokovic’s apparent defiance, with his fans arguing he was well within his rights.
“Player went to toilet and got back within the time allowed. End of. Why make such a drama of nothing,” one wrote.
But his detractors called it “cheating” as he made Baena wait to begin his service game.
It was the only real moment of drama as Djokovic swept to an emphatic 6-3 6-4 6-0 win.
The Serb said he felt “very much appreciated” as he enjoyed a rousing reception at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne following his deportation a year ago as he launched his bid for a 10th Australian Open title in style.
The 35-year-old, who missed last year’s Grand Slam because of his stance on Covid vaccines, showed few signs of the hamstring niggle he picked up in Adelaide this month as he raced into the second round.
There were concerns over how the former number one might be received by fans at Melbourne Park following the deportation saga 12 months ago.
The city endured lengthy lockdowns during the height of the pandemic. But, as in Adelaide, the fourth seed walked out to loud cheers and chants of “Nole”, with vocal backing during the match from a stadium awash with Serbian flags.
“Thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception that I could only dream of,” said Djokovic, who is chasing a record-equalling 22nd major title.
“I feel really happy that I’m back here in Australia and on the court where I have had the biggest success in my career.
“Definitely this court is the most special court in my life and I couldn’t ask for a better start to the tournament.”
— with AFP