The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: The Djokovic saga

Friday, 21 January 2022, 10:50 Last update: about 5 months ago

The Australian Tennis Open is being held in the absence of the number one athlete in the sport, Novak Djokovic, who was refused entry into the country after he did not satisfy Covid-19 vaccination requirements.

The Serbian star flew to Melbourne saying that he had an exemption from the tournament organisers, only to find out when he landed that the Australian border authorities had a different opinion.

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There followed a days-long saga in which Djokovic was first given the right to stay on by a judge, only to have the decision overturned by the minister responsible for immigration, and later confirmed by an appeals court.

Djokovic was forced to return home, unable to defend the title he won for the last three consecutive years, and nine times in total.

Australia is known for its strict control at the borders, which was heightened up in view of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Djokovic is not above the law, and should be treated like anybody else, but it must be said that he was misled into thinking that he would be given an exemption to play. Otherwise, he would not have bothered to fly to Australia and be involved in such a dispute.

Vaccination was a requirement for anyone at the tournament: players, their coaches and other entourage members, spectators, media members and everyone else on-site, too. Djokovic was unvaccinated, a personal decision that cost him his presence in one of the sport’s most important competitions.

It must be remembered that Djokovic holds the record of number of weeks in the Number One spot (356, and counting). He has also won 20 Grand Slam titles, the same as his arch-rivals in the sport, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and in Australia was seeking to further his quest to break the tie in a tournament he has dominated. Now he risks seeing Nadal notch his 21st Grand Slam victory.

But Djokovic faces more menace as other tournaments in other countries will likely follow Australia’s example and also require vaccination for players to be accepted to play. Unless he changes his mind, Djokovic might not be able to play at all this year, or maybe has to cut his career short.

It is a pity, because the sport is being deprived of the player who is arguably the best ever, although Federer and Nadal supporters would tend to disagree. Of the three, Djokovic is the least loved in the tennis circles, and has often had to play in arenas where support for his opponent was obvious. Very often, this galvanised him into giving his best, and at times he won remarkable matches with comebacks that remain vividly in the memory of all tennis fans.

Whether tennis will see Djokovic in action again remains to be seen. Whether he will return with more energy to the sport that has given him so much (and that he gave to so much) is also a question that will be answered later.

As things stand now, what happened in Australia is a big loss for the tournament, the fans, the sport and for Djokovic himself too.

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