For Novak Djokovic, there were no songs on stadium court at the Shanghai Masters on Saturday. Just a smashed racket, torn shirt, and a lot of frustration.
The top-ranked Serb struggled to control his errors — and his emotions — and was upset in the semifinals by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-4, 6-4.
Andy Murray had his own anger issues in the other semifinal against Gilles Simon, but the second-seeded Scot regained his composure and pulled out a 6-4, 6-3 victory to advance to his 10th final of the year.
Djokovic, a three-time champion in Shanghai, was noticeably off his game for the second straight day after laboring to victory over German qualifier Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals. He sprayed his groundstrokes and missed routine volleys, finishing with 29 unforced errors.
He was also a miserable 2-of-9 on break-point chances.
Against Zverev, Djokovic tried to stay calm by shrugging off errors and even humming a song to keep his anger from boiling over.
This new zen attitude was nowhere to be seen on Saturday, however.
Djokovic smashed his racket into bits after losing the first set — later grabbing a towel from a ballgirl to sweep up the pieces himself — and ripped his shirt open in anger during another point.
He also argued repeatedly with the chair umpire Carlos Bernardes over line calls and a time violation he received for changing his ripped shirt. He continued the exchange even after the match, and complained about it in his post-match news conference.
“(Bernardes) was the star of the show,” he said. “That’s what he wanted to be today.”
Djokovic has talked repeatedly this week about trying to lessen the pressure he feels on court and rediscover his inner joy for the game after a couple of all-conquering years that have left him mentally exhausted. He acknowledged after Saturday’s defeat that it’s very much a work in progress.
“This is one of those days,” Djokovic said. “Things go in an opposite direction than you want them, but again, it’s a lesson. Every day is a lesson.”
It’s been a season full of them for a player not accustomed to struggling: A stunning loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, an early exit at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics to Juan Martin del Potro, a demoralizing defeat in the U.S. Open final to Stan Wawrinka.
There’ve also been injuries to his elbow and wrist, yet another unfamiliar issue for the normally healthy Djokovic.
But the Serb doesn’t believe these challenges are insurmountable. Or that they’ll lead to a deeper slide.
“I had to experience sooner or later this,” he said. “I knew I could not go on playing the highest level for so many years all the time, but it’s good to experience this so I can hopefully get better in the period to come.”
Bautista Agut won his first match against Djokovic in six chances, and improved to 6-30 against top-10 opponents.
“The first time I remember I played (Djokovic) I thought he was from another planet,” Bautista Agut said. “And now I think I’m closer to him.”
Compared to many of his clay-loving Spanish compatriots, Bautista Agut is no slouch on hard courts, either.
In fact, he has more victories on hard courts this year (37) than all but two other players, Djokovic and Gael Monfils. He even leads Murray (33), though he’s played in more tournaments than the Scot.
Murray has won their two previous matches, not dropping a set.
Murray struggled early in his match against Simon, dropping serve three times in the first set, including the first game. He also griped repeatedly to the umpire about missed calls and a crying child in the crowd.
But he put the distractions to the side and managed to break Simon six times to clinch the match in straight sets.
Murray has won an ATP-best 64 matches this year, and hasn’t dropped a set in his last 10.