Analysis: Novak Djokovic’s legal loss is a loss for the Open, fans
Novak Djokovic’s loss in court is also a loss for the Australian Open, a loss for tennis fans and a loss for the sport as a whole.
Leaving aside, for a moment, everything that led to his expulsion from Australia on Sunday – a fundamentally difficult reason for an athlete to be forced to sit out any event – who wouldn’t not see the player who dominated men’s Grand Slam tennis in 2021 competing for what would be a historic title to start 2022?
Unaccustomed to defeats on a big stage, especially lately, he could have chased his 10th trophy at Melbourne Park, which would break his own record, and his 21st overall of all major championships, which would shatter the men’s mark that he shares with Rafael Nadal (who is in Australia) and Roger Federer (who is not there, following knee surgery).
Instead, when play begins in Australia on Monday (US Sunday), 2009 winner Nadal will ultimately be the only former Australian Open champion in the 128-man men’s field. . And 150th-ranked Salvatore Caruso, a 29-year-old Italian who is on a four-game losing streak in the Grand Slam main draw and failed to qualify in Melbourne, will be in play in the group where No 1. Djokovic resisted until Sunday’s Federal Court ruling.
Less than 18 hours before the start of the tournament, a three-judge panel unanimously upheld a government minister’s right to cancel Djokovic’s visa, ending his last ditch effort to play and ending his what the ATP Tour rightly called “a series of deeply regrettable events.
That’s how Nadal put it on Saturday, when everyone was still waiting for a solution: “Honestly, I’m a bit tired of the situation.”
At the heart of the 11-day saga was Djokovic’s decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which was a requirement for anyone at the Australian Open: the players, their coaches and other members of entourage, spectators, members of the media and everyone else on site as well. Over 95% of all Top 100 men and women in their respective tour rankings are vaccinated.
Djokovic requested, and was initially granted, a medical exemption, saying he tested positive for COVID-19 in December. Ultimately, he was forced to leave Australia because he was seen as someone who could stoke anti-vaccine sentiments in a country, like many others, going through a surge of the omicron variant .
That’s a big reason it’s gotten so much attention.
Yes, it involved one of the most successful and famous athletes around, someone who came to a victory of the first Grand Slam of the calendar year in men’s tennis since 1969. And yes, it involved an intriguing “What’s next?” miniseries that included an eight-hour airport interrogation, a forced four-day stay at an immigration hotel, a handful of court hearings, two superstar visa cancellations, a successful appeal and, finally, another that was refused.
But as polarizing a character as Djokovic can be, rightly or wrongly, nothing is as polarizing to some people these days as the coronavirus pandemic itself and the topic of those who won’t be vaccinated. It is something that concerns the whole population of the world.
What happens next with Djokovic will be fascinating to watch because there are so many unknowns, at least in part because he hasn’t answered questions or spoken to the media since his flight landed in Melbourne on the 5th January.
Following Sunday’s verdict, he released a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” and that he “will now take some time to rest and recover, before making any further comments beyond that. “.
He added: “I am uncomfortable that the focus of the last few weeks has been on me and I hope we can all now focus on the game and the tournament that I love.”
No one knows when he will return to action. No one knows which future tournaments might have vaccine requirements. No one knows if Djokovic will ever get vaccinated. Nobody knows how this whole episode might figure into his attempts to form a players’ association that might be the closest thing to a union tennis has seen.
And no one can know for sure, of course, what Djokovic’s future in the sport will look like.
It seems safe to count on it, though: Djokovic, the ultimate fighter, never intimidated by tough opponents or match points or antagonistic crowds, will return to victory when he can return to a court with a racquet at the hand.
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Follow him at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich or email him at [email protected]
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