A tennis fan who caught a piece of history in 2016 is hoping to net a tidy profit at SCP’s Fall Premier Auction.
Abby Doherty, of Portland, Maine, caught the tennis racquet thrown by Novak Djokovic after the Serb star won his first French Open, completing the career Grand Slam and earning a calendar slam for the first time since Rod Laver achieved the feat in 1969.
That was Djovokic’s 12th major title and he has doubled that number since. He needs one more Grand Slam title to win No. 25 and break a tie with Margaret Court for the most major championships in tennis history. It’s the first photo-matched Djokovic major championship racquet ever to come to auction.
Doherty, 31, a big tennis fan from a family that enjoys the sport, was in Paris on June 5, 2016, at Stade Roland Garros. Her grandmother, Carole Hancock, had arranged the trip overseas through Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours to celebrate the 50th birthday of her son, Kevin Hancock – Abby’s father.
The family, which included Doherty, her grandmother, father, mother (Alison Hancock) and sister (Sydney Hancock), sat in the middle of the lower section behind the players’ benches.
They watched as Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. It was a win-win situation for Doherty, who is a fan of both players.
When Murray dumped a shot into the net at match point, Djokovic fell to the ground and was flat on his back for a few moments, soaking up the moment.
After a handshake and embrace with Murray, Djokovic drew a heart with one of his match-used racquets on the clay and then tossed it into the stands — right in the direction of the Hancock family.
“It was all in slow motion. He just flung it into the crowd,” Doherty said. “I had an ‘Oh my God’ moment because it was coming right toward us.
“It hit my hand and it was deflected to the ground. I sprinted to it and put my foot on the racquet and grabbed the handle. I held onto it real tight.”
There is still red clay on the top of the racquet, and the handle has white tape with red clay visible, Doherty said. Before the match, Djokovic had written his name and the date on his racquet, which is a nice way to authenticate it.
Doherty said some of her friends were watching the match on NBC and saw her make a play on the flying souvenir.
“They were asking, ‘Did you catch that racquet?”
She sure did, even though she stands just 5 feet, 2 inches. By contrast, her father is nearly a foot taller.
“I was just well-positioned,” Doherty said.
With racquet in hand, Doherty attempted a fan’s version of the Grand Slam — getting Djokovic to sign it.
“After the match I ran down to the place where he exited the court,” she said. “I wanted to get him to sign it, but I was unable to get his attention.”
Still, Doherty had a tennis relic for the ages. But after seven years, she decided the time was right to let someone else enjoy it. Parting with a piece of history was still difficult, though.
“It was a really tough decision,” Doherty said. “You’ve got this really cool piece of sports memorabilia but it’s been sitting in my closet for like, six years.”
Doherty grew up playing tennis in the small Maine town of Casco, located about 28 miles north of Portland and about 25 miles southwest of Lewiston. The latter city was the site of the worst mass shooting in Maine’s history, when a gunman killed 18 people and wounded 13 others on Oct. 25. The area and all of the state’s residents are still coping with the tragedy.
“It’s been a sad few weeks,” she said.
While attending Lake Region High School in Naples, Maine, Doherty played basketball, not tennis. She graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and currently works in sales for Datadog, a software company in Falmouth, just north of Portland.
Still, she and her family enjoy playing and watching tennis. Her mother, Carole Hancock, 79, still enjoys golf and tennis, and until his recent surgery, was a playing partner with basketball announcer Dick Vitale. The two competed regularly in Lakewood Ranch, located on Florida’s Gulf coast east of Bradenton and Sarasota.
Doherty’s parents and grandmother have attended Wimbledon, and that is a tennis bucket list item for her. She attended the U.S. Open in New York two years ago.
While she does not play hockey, Doherty has a vested interest in the sport. Her husband of less than two years, Connor Doherty, is a defenseman with the Portland-based Maine Mariners, a minor league hockey team affiliated with the ECHL. He was named the second captain in the team’s history in 2021.
Abby Doherty said she was a “huge” Serena Williams fan — “I cried when she retired” — and enjoys Ben Shelton, who is now ranked No. 15 in the ATP world rankings. Reigning U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff is also a favorite.
And so is Djokovic, of course.
Resolution Photomatching and Sports Investors Authentication have confirmed conclusive photo-matches of the Novak racquet to use in the French Open Final as well as the semifinal.
Bidding started at $10,000 when SCP Auctions opened its final auction of 2023 on Wednesday morning. Doherty is hoping that the racquet will serve up a nice payday when bidding closes on Dec. 2.
“I hope so,” she said. “It’s a unique piece. (Djokovic is) untouchable right now.”
And while she might have some regrets about selling the racquet, Doherty said she will always have good memories of her thrilling moment in Paris seven years ago.
“It’s a super cool story,” she said. “It’s like when you take a new job and they ask you to share a fun fact. Well, here’s my fun fact.”