Novak Djokovic accuses Norrie of unsporting behaviour after Italian Open clash

British player hit Serbian in leg with smash shot during incident in game

Novak Djokovic levelled criticism at Cameron Norrie’s sportsmanship after their frosty contest on Tuesday in the fourth round of the Italian Open.

Djokovic, the men’s top seed and defending champion, defeated 13th seed Norrie 6-3, 6-4 in a tense encounter to reach the quarterfinals of the Italian Open for a record 17th consecutive year, a run that dates back to his first appearance in 2007.

The most notable moment of contention came during the second set. During one point, both players ended up at the net but a weak reflex lob from Djokovic presented Norrie with an easy overhead to finish the point.

With the point surely over, Djokovic turned around and began walking back to the baseline but, seemingly by accident, Norrie struck the back of Djokovic’s foot with his smash. As Norrie put a hand up in apology, Djokovic turned around and stared Norrie down. After the match, however, Djokovic acknowledged that the overhead may have been unintentional.


“I did watch the replay when he hit me,” he said. “Yeah, maybe you could say he didn’t hit me deliberately. I don’t know if he saw me. I mean, peripheralically [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.”

The No 1 seed was less forgiving of Norrie for other qualms he had during the match. Djokovic described his issues with Norrie as rather a combination of things”, including Norrie’s frequent and vocal fistpumping after successful points from early in the match and the medical timeout he took before Djokovic served for the match at 5-4 in the set. After the match, Djokovic, who is usually warm with opponents at the net, gave Norrie an extremely cold handshake.

“From the very beginning, I don’t know, he was doing all the things that were allowed,” said Djokovic. “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, it’s not how we treat each other. But, again, it’s allowed, so ...”

Norrie is well-liked on the tour and while he is a tenacious competitor on the court against every opponent, he is rarely involved in any sort of drama with other players. Djokovic acknowledged that the pair had a good relationship with Norrie off the court.

“I got along with Cameron really well all these years that he’s been on the tour. Practised with each other. He’s a very nice guy off the court, so I don’t understand this kind of attitude on the court, to be honest,” said Djokovic.

“But it is what it is. He brought the fire, and I responded to that. I’m not going to allow someone behaving like this just bending my head. I’m going to respond to that. That’s all it is. What happens on the court, we leave it on the court, and we move on.”

The match had started with a brief delay as it took Djokovic some time to arrive on the court. Asked if he had any physical issues, Djokovic implied that he did.

“Well, yes, I had something, but don’t want to talk about that too much,” he said. “We had a late warm-up today. There were only two practice courts available for so many players. It was not an ideal preparation for the match. I finished my warm-up 10 minutes before the match. It was cold. Try to do everything in time. That’s it.”

Djokovic will next face the 20-year-old Dane Holger Rune, the seventh seed, in what will be the first match between them since Rune pulled off a shocking victory over Djokovic in the final of the Paris Masters last November.

For Norrie, Rome marked a solid tournament after a difficult start to the European clay season despite his success in South America earlier in the year. The British No 1 navigated two solid straight sets victories and although he was ultimately outplayed by the world number one at one of Djokovic’s most successful tournaments, he lived up to his seeding by reaching the fourth round.

Norrie will next head to Lyon next week as defending champion with a positive outlook as he completes his preparation for Roland Garros.

Meanwhile, top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek reached the quarter-final with a hard-fought 6-3, 6-4 win over Donna Vekic on Tuesday in a match that was postponed from Monday due to rain. Swiatek will next look for revenge against Elena Rybakina, the Wimbledon champion and seventh seed, who twice defeated Swiatek in straight sets this year. Despite not gaining any points for her Wimbledon victory last year, Rybakina’s quarter-final run means that she will break into the top five for the first time in her career. – Guardian