Traditionally, the bench to the left of the chair umpire is reserved for the higher-ranked player in a tennis match. In the case of the year-end match at the ATP World Tour Finals between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the honor should have gone to Djokovic, the world No. 1.
But Federer entered the O2 Arena first for Monday's final and took the chair for himself. It's a familiar seat -- no man in history has spent more weeks at No. 1 than Federer -- but one that wasn't supposed to be his on Monday evening.
As noted by a number of tennis observers on Twitter, Djokovic appeared to notice the faux pas when he entered and seemed annoyed. He went on to lose the first nine points of the match en route to a quick 0-3 deficit. That's not saying there's any causation, mind you. Yet players, even ones with as much talent as Djokovic, have been thrown off by less.
He would rally to win the first set, 7-6.
Did Federer sit in the seat on purpose, to send a message? Was it a mistake? Does Federer always assume he's the top-ranked player in the room? I bet if Federer met the president and someone in the room said, "Mr. President, there's an urgent call for you," Federer would dig his phone out of his pocket to see who was ringing him.
It was probably a harmless accident or maybe they broke with tradition on purpose and we're all reading too much into Djokovic's reaction. For what it's worth, Federer and Djokovic both sat in the proper seats during Sunday's semifinal wins.