Novak Djokovic gives a qualified backing to disgraced Justin Gimelsto
At the risk of catapulting Justin Gimelstob into a stratosphere beyond the imaginings of his own ego, Novak Djokovic on Monday first buried his old friend then praised him, a brilliantly unsubtle Mark Antony to the American’s Caesar.
Gimelstob’s conviction for assault, his subsequent resignation from the ATP players’ council and his over-wrought departure (a 12,000-mile round trip last week to say sorry to Djokovic, the council president) have constituted the game’s single biggest distraction for too long. Yet on the day Djokovic celebrated a total of 250 weeks as world No 1 the eloquent Serb, was, as ever, worth listening to on a soap opera with more legs than Swan Lake.
Djokovic, still searching for his best form on court, took to the microphone more assuredly on the eve of his opening match in the second round of the Madrid Open on Tuesday – against Taylor Fritz, whose 7-6 (8), 7-6 (4) defeat of Grigor Dimitrov on day two here was not the shock it might have been a couple of years ago – to go with the moral flow on Gimelstob’s shaming.
“Under the circumstances it was a wise decision from his side,” Djokovic said, quickly adding: “It’s unfortunate because I think he has been probably the biggest asset that players had in the last 10-plus years that he’s been on the Tour. But, at the same time, these are kind of unfortunate circumstances and he needs to go back and deal with that, deal with that case and try to find the right balance and the right state of mind before he eventually tries to come back.”
Tough, fair and compassionate: it is a rare beast who owns all three and Djokovic was careful not to join the more bloodthirsty among Gimelstob’s critics who never want to see him near a tennis tournament again. Wimbledon has already turned its back on the American.
Stan Wawrinka (or a very good ghost) has fired off a letter to the Times and Roger Federer has suggested that Chris Kermode – whom Djokovic and Gimelstob successfully levered out of his job in charge of the ATP – might now be “back in the mix”.
On that touchy subject the worldNo 1 played another astute card. Asked if he thought Gimelstob’s downfall in a court of law might invalidate his vote to get rid of Kermode, he said: “Technically he has the right to – and I’m talking about Chris – he has the right to be in a ballot again. He has the right to be a candidate officially for another mandate. I don’t know whether he wants to do that or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it. But if this happens, why not?”
The winner down the line followed. “In our sport we need as many quality candidates as possible. He’s someone that has been a president for quite a few years and knows the tour inside out. It’s going to be a really important and interesting process for us of recruitment, as well. I think several companies have been engaged now in the recruiting process and research. So, hopefully we can have quality candidates from inside of tennis, sports and out of sports, so we can understand what is best for us.”
Declining to give shape to his vision of the future (although it is common knowledge he wants more say and money for the players, less for the tournament bosses – quite rightly), Djokovic did say: “I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. I feel like we need to be on this boat together, as we are, all the players and tournaments, of course, because we are all part of the same system.”
Quite who the “honourable men” will end up being on this boat is yet to be written – perhaps by the headhunters employed by the very people who in March recommended that Kermode’s contract not be renewed when it expires in November. Shakespeare could not make it up.