VFour months is not a long time in the world’s machinery, but in this case it seems like years fit into that span. Almost four months to the day, Novak Djokovic entered Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York to complete a historic feat; he was on the verge of winning the fourth of the big four titles in a calendar year, the legendary Grand Slam. No one had done that in men’s tennis for more than 50 years, and Djokovic knew that if he cracked that thing, he’d be sitting on his throne, sunlit, once and for all. But he didn’t make it. The weight of the task brought him to his knees, but at least he got the audience’s feelings.
And now? On Friday night in Melbourne, just after half past five, the Serb was kicked out by Australians, in this case Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke, for the second time in a week, this time on the grounds that he was a threat to national security. Four months after missing out on the win in New York, it looks like he’s public enemy number one in Australia, and not only there. In polls, a clear majority of people in the country supported his expulsion, and the reactions from his colleagues did not sound like an invitation to tea.
Tsitsipas and Sousa are critical
Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas had criticized Djokovic for playing by his own rules. “We followed the regulations to be able to compete in Australia and a very small minority chose to go our own way, which makes us look like idiots.” Fellow Portuguese João Sousa felt Djokovic was selfish if he was the only one Players in Australia appear unvaccinated. “It’s hard for us to accept that.” Only the Serbian tabloid media stand firmly behind their folk hero. They get excited about the “persecution of Novak” or even “lynch mood”.
With the decision not to be vaccinated, the best tennis player in the world has not only missed the opportunity to make a statement about the blessings of the vaccine, he is now on his way into a jungle full of problems. Should the second appeal by his lawyers be unsuccessful, should he not be able to convince the judge himself in a hearing on Saturday morning and should the expulsion be confirmed on Sunday, then not only the tournament in which he won his tenth title in Australia would look very different wanted to win. Also for the rest of the year that has just started, Novak Djokovic will be an unvaccinated underdog who will struggle to pursue his profession.
He will not be allowed to start at the big spring tournaments in the USA, Indian Wells and Miami, nor at the US Open in late summer. He will not have to do without Roland Garros, because the French do not require vaccination to participate in their Grand Slam tournament. But the forthcoming decision would also have repercussions beyond the end of this year. Because if the expulsion is confirmed at the weekend, then he should not return to Australia before January 14, 2025, for three years he would not have a chance to play for the title in Melbourne.
As the voice of reason in all situations, the Scot Andy Murray is in demand. He was sitting in the press conference on Friday after winning the semi-finals of the tournament in Sydney when Minister Alex Hawke’s statement became public. In these difficult times, he would certainly not be beating his colleague Djokovic, he replied to a question about his reaction, nobody in the whole story looked particularly good anyway. Everyone has to make their own decisions, but these decisions also have consequences. “I think it makes sense for people to get vaccinated. Most young, healthy athletes can handle it somehow, but I think we all have a part to play in this story.”
The case of the best tennis player in the world, who not so long ago was about to be crowned on another continent, entered its second weekend in Melbourne. The court made every effort not to waste any time in the further proceedings, while the tournament boss announced which halves of the tableau will start with the first games of the Australian Open 2022 on Monday. For women, as for men, it is the upper halves, headed by the respective number one. As of Friday, this still included the man who not so long ago reached for the stars and who at the moment would probably be happy if he could find somewhere to hold on to.
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