Novak Djokovic has been caught up in more than enough controversy in 2022, yet the latest storm erupting around him is very much of his own making.
Back in July, Djokovic was quizzed on what appeared to be a bizarre drinking habit as he appeared to inhale something from a drinks bottle during a change of ends at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
When asked by the media what explanation he could offer for a clip that went viral on social media channels, his answer threw up more questions.
“Magic potion, that is all I can say,” he responded. “You’ll find out soon, but I can’t speak about it now. You’ll find out soon.”
Djokovic is media-savvy enough to know that answer would cause a stir, with those who persistently suggest that tennis lacks rigorous doping regulation eager to jump on the comment to add fuel to the fire.
So when a video emerged of Djokovic’s team clearly trying to disguise the preparation of a drinks bottle from a prying phone camera during the Paris Masters last Saturday, the “magic potion” comment was brought to the forefront once more.
The idea that the support team for any player would be openly preparing an ‘illegal’ drink in the full view of the public is preposterous, but this story would not have exploded as it has done without the mystery around his bottle intake being highlighted by Djokovic’s previous comments.
A familiar cast of defenders has emerged in recent days, with Djokovic’s wife Jelena among those voicing her opinion.
“I don’t see anything dodgy,” she said on Twitter. “In fact, I see people trying to be private about their business in a world where everyone feels they have every right to point a camera at you.”
Current ATP player John Millman also voiced his view, as he suggested the furore around Novak and his water bottle was unnecessary.
“Too much attention on a team member mixing sports drinks,” he wrote on Twitter.
“A proper ridiculous notion that something is up, stadium full, cameras everywhere, drinks mixed in players box.
“I mean use a little logic here, maybe just maybe they don’t want to give the edge to anyone.”
Djokovic can end this debate by confirming what his “magic potion” is and the reality is likely to be that he takes electrolytes that have been used by most players for many years.
Andy Murray vomited at the US Open back in 2005 after he admitted to taking too much of his sodium-enriched drink and he recently spoke about the liquids prepared for him in matches that are designed around scientific tests.
“I’m doing sweat testing in these conditions to see if anything has changed in that respect because the sports drinks and the electrolytes (he takes) are made specifically on my sweat tests, but I haven’t done sweat testing for quite a number of years,” he said, when speaking about issues of cramping in matches.
“I don’t know if anything has changed in that respect but we’ll try and get to the bottom of it, because let’s say if it was purely from hydration.
“It’s not just been as simple as changing how much I’ve been drinking or what I’m drinking so I need to get some answers.”
All players take supplements and those at the top of the game would be crazy to take anything that could threaten their career or long-term reputation, but this Djokovic story has not been helped by his previous comments.
Adding a veil of mystery around his intake is the issue for those who are eager to undermine a player who highlighted his eagerness to take control of what he puts into his body by refusing to take the Covid vaccine.
That decision cost him a chance to play at the Australian Open, US Open and four ATP Masters 1000 events this year, with many suggesting his stance made him a poster boy for the anti-vaxxer movement.
Djokovic strongly denied that accusation and made it clear that he supported the choice of those who opted to take the Covid vaccine, yet those who objected to his stance will have enjoyed the controversy of recent days.
If Djokovic uses his first press conference at the ATP Final in Turin to end the debate over what was in that bottle in Paris and at Wimbledon (with the contents of both clearly different as one was inhaled and one was a drink), this story will evaporate as quickly as it started.
Yet these final comments from Millman add to the questions that need to be answered as he offered this insight on Twitter.
“Inside a locker room you see a player’s team always making drinks, in unmarked bottles and put in the fridge,” added the Aussie.
“Training programs, supplement intake etc is trade secret.”
‘Trade secrets’ tend to be the kind of inside stories that excite the media and add to conspiracy theories.
Whether Djokovic and his team like it or not, questions will now be asked about a video that has attracted millions of views on social media and it will be intriguing to see how the former world No 1 handles the scrutiny that will inevitably come his way in Turin.