Friday, 11 November 2011

Deceit and Entrapment: Novak Djokovic and the $1.6M Matrix of Cynicism

1. If Novak doesn’t play Paris, its because he’s saving himself for London – his shoulder has almost nothing to do with it. Neither is it relevant that countless other players both past and present have done precisely that under similar circumstances.

2. If Novak plays Paris, but loses his opener, he’s still saving himself for London but is now also a “low-rent” mercenary for claiming the $1.6M he was due for competing in 7 of the 8 Masters events – or, as Bodo would have it, for “brazenly gaming the system”.

3. If Novak plays Paris, but retires during his opener, he’s still saving himself for London, is still “brazenly gaming the system” by claiming the $1.6M he was due for playing 7 of the 8 Masters events, but is now also one that hasn’t the grace nor the class (both overused terms) to give his opponent the win they’re due.

Bonus hater points accrued depending on how the injury is presented: “his body always seems to break down” (opportunist ~2pts) vs. “his body always seems to break down” (wet behind the ears ~2pts) vs. a creatively insidious combo of both (~5pts)

4. If Novak wins his opener, he’s putting in just enough legwork to counter the accusations of “not trying hard enough” he WILL receive should he pull out or lose any one of of his subsequent matches. His primary motivation (as a low-rent mercenary) remains exiting the event both quickly and by drawing as little attention (censure) as possible. Needless to say he can’t do both and the more diligent hater won’t let him get away with it.

5. If he fights back from a set down as he did against his compatriot yesterday, he’s a showboating dickhead that’s cynically exploiting the opportunity of beating a flaky minion (one whose game he knows inside out) to present himself as someone that doesn’t shy away from a fight, no matter how much he may be hurting, and no matter how little is at stake. Again, the more astute hater won’t fail to avail the opportunity of satisfying the dual objective of both undercutting Novak and snarking on Viktor.

6. If he makes the latter stages or – God help us – wins the event, he’s an insufferable egomaniac that doesn’t know when to stop (the chip on the shoulder of most players from small Eastern European countries usually ensure that they don’t) and will in all likelihood pay the price for it in London.

This is the matrix of cynicism with which Novak’s every action has been evaluated over the past week – the handout from hell.

Its beauty lies in the arc it artfully traces between the two extremes of blaming him for one thing, namely pulling out to avoid further inflaming an injury(1) and blaming him for its reflexive opposite (6) – veteran haters are able to pull this off without the transition between (1) and (6) seeming too jarring, or even without anyone noticing it’s taken place at all.


Between the two endpoints lies a breadth of possibilities that is truly daunting and the real magic lies in predicting what Novak may or may not do and devising ever more creative means of undercutting  “the good” and highlighting “the bad”.

What you end up with is a complex web of deceit which ensures Novak’s presented in nothing other than the most unfavourable terms, and from which there can be no escape as no stone has been left unturned.  As a piece of legal, political and actuarial manoeuvring, it stands alone – you really have to marvel at its completeness and attention to detail. 

Let’s be completely honest: Novak was gonna be gunned down whatever he did this week.

His pulling out after winning two matches is supposed to mean we can all go back to pretending he wouldn’t have got shat upon had he pulled out before the event began or, rather more crucially, had there not been $1.6M at stake.

And one thing I have learnt this week is that there is, apparently, a middle ground between the haters’ invective and the more conventional discourse around Nole’s injuries – this appears to be what most have settled upon.

There’s only one thing wrong with it: it happens to be  a crock of shit. Elaborate, inventive, and maybe even a little persuasive, but a hoax all the same.

Novak's physical conditioning has always proved polarising – and yes he has sometimes brought it on himself – yet there’s something inexorably icky about the nature of the spite this time round as it seems to be motivated primarily by the question of money.

That would be the $1.6M bonus he was due for playing 7 of the 8 Masters events – something no one else was able to do this year, and a provision that, as far as I can tell, has always been in place.

I don’t think he should have played this week either, I don’t feel the need to go out of the way to defend his decision to do so and, yes, he probably didn’t "give it his all”, but we really shouldn’t be muddying the waters with talk of money. 

And if we’re honest about it, it’s no different to what countless other players, both past and present, both journeyman and elite, have done (in some cases many times over) – only they seem to get the most lavish praise imaginable for “listening to their body”.


Only yesterday, Mardy Fish withdrew with a pulled left hamstring – a recurring injury that also caused him problems in Basel, an injury he would, presumably, have been nursing when he decided to play here this week, an injury that puts him in much the same position as Novak, yes?

If Novak’s a shithead for pulling out two matches in, then so is Mardy – $1.6M should have nothing to do with it. Or are those levels of winnings only for players you like?

I can’t in all honesty say I even find that much wrong with pocketing the amount he did without supposedly “giving it his all”; it’s not the epitome of principled behaviour, but it is increasingly becoming an unavoidable consequence of the more physical modern game – and, dare I say it, the length of the season. We’re going to have to find a way to live with that without casting doubt on any and every withdrawal we witness.

In any case, after the season he’s just had, I’d say he’s entitled to the benefit of the doubt. The same benefit of the doubt readily conferred upon more popular types – even those popular types that are actually guilty of “brazenly gaming the system”.

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