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Bring it in tight. It all happens, see, with the scores locked at 4-4 all in the second set, with both players, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem, fighting for their lives.

When Djokovic takes too long to deliver his serve within the 30 seconds limit he is given a time warning by the umpire in the chair, Damien Dumusois. When Djokovic does it again in the same game, the umpire deems he has lost his first service, and the Serbian goes on to lose the game because . . . well, because Djokovic took too long, was outside the rules, and if the umpire had not so penalised him he would not have been administering the rules of tennis. Simple as that!

But watch what happens now. Carpet-biting mad, Djokovic storms past the umpire’s chair, reaches out and taps Dumusois’s foot, sarcastically exclaiming “You made yourself famous in this match. Great job. Especially in the second one. Great job. You made yourself famous. Well done man.” Dumusois, as tennis umpires are ever wont to do, barely blinks.

Novak Djokovic taps the chair umpire's foot during the Australian Open final.

Novak Djokovic taps the chair umpire’s foot during the Australian Open final.Credit:AAP

Djokovic goes on to win the match after a mighty battle, which had included telling that part of the Australian crowd supporting Thiem to “Shut the f–k up!”. In the joy of his eighth victory in this Major, he seemed bemused the issue should be raised by the press, even though he was in clear breach of the rules for abusing the crowd, taking too long to serve, and then touching and abusing the umpire.

Two questions arise. First, how the hell does tennis – with a genteel tradition, if not actuality – put up with, first of all, this verbal nonsense; this kind of belittling bullying from players? It has been going on since the 1970s and they still tolerate it?

What do you think would happen to a golfer if he spoke to the crowd like that, before publicly belittling a golf official and then touching him? Anyone have any memory of any golfer doing that, ever?

Novak Djokovic with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the 2020 Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the 2020 Australian Open.Credit:Getty Images

Why? Because if they did, their feet wouldn’t touch the ground before they were shown the door.

Ditto the football codes. We have just seen the Greatest Show on Earth, the Superbowl, combining as George F. Will put it, “the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings”.

And in all that violence, and all those committee meetings, over the decades, does anyone ever recall a footballer abusing the crowd, speaking to an umpire and touching him like that? Me neither. Why?


First, because they are about as professional a sport as it gets, and no player showing discipline would ever do any of that, even when he vehemently disagreed. And if he did, he would also be shown the door, probably by his own outfit.

As for, specifically, touching the umpire the way Djokovic did, let me say it: a thousand times no.

In all sports, the person of the umpire or referee has to be sacrosanct, that is the first thing insisted on.

In rugby league and AFL in recent times, we have seen players suspended even for minor accidental contact, and rightly so. Those sports get it. Great match officials are the key difference between having a good game and an ordinary game. Their starting point has to be that their rulings will be enforced, and that their person will be sacrosanct but . . .

But what? Djokovic is such a good bloke, you say, and didn’t mean anything by it, and as he says, “I mean, I didn’t know that’s completely forbidden . . . I thought it was a nice, really friendly touch”?

I don’t care. Steve Roach’s was a friendly touch, too, all those years ago when he famously patted a touch judge before he was instantly suspended for four weeks for his trouble and fined $5,000. Djokovic should be equally heavily fined for touching the umpire, and even given a suspended sentence like Kyrgios was, for spitting at the umpire in Cincinatti last year.

I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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