Novak Djokovic and Danish teenager Holger Rune played out one of the most thrilling matches of the year on Monday morning (AEDT) — but plenty of tennis fans are talking about something else.
A video of Djokovic’s team trying to hide a substance it was preparing from inside the stadium at the Paris Masters during the Serbian’s semi-final win over Stefanos Tsitsipas is going viral.
The clip appears to have captured the exact moment the 21-time grand slam champion’s entourage realised it was being filmed by a spectator and then shuffled around inside Djokovic’s playing box to shield what was being prepared from the unknown camera operator.
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The video then shows a member of Djokovic’s team handing a water bottle to a ball kid on the court before the water botte is transported to Djokovic as he sits on his seat next to the umpire’s chair.
Leading tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg on Monday morning called for greater transparency of the substances taken by players during matches, describing the body language of Djokovic’s entourage as “bizarre”.
“I’ve always thought there should be more transparency about the substances players take, particularly during matches, but I’ve also rarely thought anything was likely amiss,” he posted on Twitter.
“But golly, the body language in this video is bizarre. What does the Djokovic team think needs hiding?”
“I think rivals (and the public and the officials governing the sport) should get to know. I don’t think there should be secret substances being ingested during competition.
“I’m accusing no one of anything here, but what an incredibly suspicious way to start acting when you suddenly notice that you’re being filmed. Hope Djokovic and/or his team get asked about this today in Paris, and that they don’t just accept his previous “magic potions” answer.”
The amateur fan video has more than two million views.
Djokovic was not asked about it following his defeat at the hands of Rune on Monday.
Rothenberg said it simply didn’t look good for a team to act in such a way.
“It’s not the crouching, it’s directing the other guy to block the camera by turning his back,” he tweeted in response to a comment by another Twitter user.
“The optics of that are just strange and invite more questions.”
Djokovic was also asked about mysterious substances he was seen taking at Wimbledon this year, where he responded to press conference questions by saying: “It’s a magic potion, that’s all I can say”.
It may have helped Djokovic to a third set tiebreak win over Tsitsipas in the semi, but it didn’t help him get over the line against Rune.
The six-time champion was stunned by Rune 3-6 6-3 7-5 after taking the first set and having a break of serve in the third set.
Rune, 19, became the youngest winner of the Paris tournament since an 18-year-old Boris Becker in 1986 after beating five top-10 players in as many days — the first to do so in the same tournament.
He is the fifth first-time Masters winner this season and will be the first Danish man to break into the top 10 when the ATP Rankings are officially updated on Monday.
It will be the first time two teenagers — Carlos Alcaraz and Rune — have been inside the top 10 at the same time since Andy Murray and Djokovic in 2007.
“It means everything to me, a perfect way to finish the week,” said Rune.
“It was an incredible tournament.”
After winning the title in Stockholm either side of runner-up finishes in Sofia and Basel, Rune began his run to a fourth straight final by saving three match points in the opening round to beat Stan Wawrinka.
He then took down Hubert Hurkacz followed by Andrey Rublev before seeing off Carlos Alcaraz as the world number one retired with injury while trailing by a set in the quarter-finals.
Rune snapped Felix Auger-Aliassime’s 16-match winning streak to set up the clash with Djokovic, who had not lost at Bercy since his defeat to Karen Khachanov in the 2018 final.
“For somebody who is so young to show this composure and maturity in the big match like this is very impressive. He’s had a week of his life,” said Djokovic.
The Serb came into Sunday’s final having won 21 of 22 matches since the start of Wimbledon, which he won for the seventh time in July to match Pete Sampras.
He broke for a 3-1 lead as Rune served back-to-back double faults in the biggest final of his career to date.
Djokovic comfortably held out to pocket the opening set and looked to have Rune on the ropes when he surged 40-0 ahead on his opponent’s serve in the first game of the second set.
But Rune battled back superbly to thwart Djokovic and then swung the momentum in his favour by immediately breaking to go 2-0 up the following game, which proved enough to force a decider.
The 16-year age gap between the pair was the biggest in a Masters final since Rafael Nadal, then 19, defeated 35-year-old Andre Agassi in Montreal in 2005.
Rune’s inexperience resurfaced when he double-faulted attempting a big second serve to hand Djokovic a 3-1 edge, but the Dane showed his remarkable character to break back straight away.
Instead it was Djokovic who cracked when the pressure was highest, spearing a forehand wide to present Rune with the chance to serve for the trophy.
Rune withstood six break points in a marathon final game before securing the title after two hours and 34 minutes to complete an incredible week in the French capital.
“It was the most stressful game of my life,” said Rune of the gripping finale.
“My heart was almost in my brain. I was already starting to think about the tie-break. I’m very proud I could finish it.”
Rune is qualified for next week’s Next Gen Finals in Milan, but with his victory over Djokovic he also becomes the first alternate for the ATP Finals in Turin from November 13-20.
Djokovic will turn his focus to winning the season-ending finals for a record-equalling sixth time, to draw level with Roger Federer.
“Of course I’m disappointed with the loss today, but I was very close,” said Djokovic.
“It was just very few points that decided a winner. But the level of tennis that I’m playing is high, and I like my chances (in Turin).
“Every match is like a final there. There are no easy matches.”