Almanac Tennis – Double Fault: Djokovic and two missed shots

 

 

 

 

 

Novak Djokovic’s return to the court in 2022 was a hotly anticipated chance to see the Serb return to action and chase a record 21st men’s Grand Slam title. However, Djokovic overstepped the line, a foot fault that saw him battle it out in the courts of Australia’s justice system – a far cry from the lights of prime time Rod Laver Arena.

 

Djokovic’s mistake? Two missed shots that failed to land in court. The all-time great had a play on the ball, but instead expected the opponent to bend to his will. Indeed, Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 bears many similarities to a tennis defeat – complete with officials on the sidelines appointed to judge his errors.

 

How did things go so horribly wrong for Novak, and what does his visa fiasco mean for the future of covid-safe sporting events?

 

 

‘The Djoker is a Wanted Man’

 

Novak Djokovic is no stranger to controversy. One of three contenders for the title of greatest man in tennis history, Djokovic has nonetheless come under fire for his unscientific views, buddying up with colourful identities in the tennis fraternity, and thespian on-court meltdowns. Add to the mix a history of debatable medical deliberation at crucial points in matches, pictures of his association with Bosnian genocide deniers, and his latest disregard for pandemic regulations, the Djoker is a tennis villain who outshines the sport’s Batmen and Robins.

 

There is no doubt that Djokovic’s extremely high peak level of play can be enthralling to watch, and proves to be a true litmus test for up-and-coming players, almost two decades after the Serb joined the ranks of the pro tour. The US Open 2020, from which Djokovic was disqualified for ‘inadvertently’ hitting the ball in anger and injuring a lineswoman (sensing a pattern here?), was undoubtedly a lesser event for his absence. The bloated yet low-quality final between Zverev and Thiem, for example, proved to be a snoozefest for the ages.

 

However, his disregard for rules and regulations, seemingly an extension of his defiant spirit, has caused many to reconsider his sporting achievements. His inability to follow any country’s Covid regulations, including taking photos with children – unmasked – the day after his purported second positive result, was only bested by his admission of a potential vaccine exemption on Instagram. Tennis Australia had clearly been pulling some strings behind the scenes to allow Djokovic to play, but (ironically) it is perhaps his announcement of these circumstances to the world that led to further scrutiny and ultimately scuppered his chances.

 

In a seemingly dystopian few years in which Australians have been prevented from seeing loved ones on their deathbeds, or indeed have been left stranded overseas, a certain Mr Djokovic waltzing in without taking a skerrick of health advice was hardly going to mollify the court of public opinion.

 

As Covid-19 has quickly become Covid-22+, the fate of sports events and public gatherings will depend on sportspeople’s and spectators’ ability to follow public health advice. Even as the available vaccines and boosters struggle to counter the spread of new variants, they are still our best option for preventing serious illness and protecting our overloaded health system.

 

97 out of the top 100-ranked male singles tennis players are now double-vaccinated. The lone holdouts are Djokovic, Tennys Sandgren, and an anonymous third player. On the doubles tour, top tenner Pierre-Hugues Herbert – one half of the ATP 2021 Fans’ Favourite team – also feigns a fear of Pfizer. Much as Djokovic threw away the chance to compete for a 21st Slam, Herbert abandoned his doubles partner and the possibility of a sixth Major, even as his team would have been among the top two favourites for the AO 2022 title.

 

As other nations rapidly introduce vaccine mandates and passports, anti-vaxxers’ time in the sun may be coming to an end. Granted, sportspeople must travel the globe to earn their keep, and must expect to contract Covid at some point, a reality us ordinary civilians must also face.

 

According to my research, the following pro tennis players, male and female, have contracted Covid since 2020:

 

Alcaraz, Altmaier, Andreescu, Anisimova, Badosa, Bencic, Borges, Brooksby, F.Cerúndolo, Clijsters, Coric, Davidovich Fokina, de Minaur, Dimitrov, Djokovic, Escobedo, Evans, Ferro, Fognini, Gauff, Gasquet, Goffin, Halep, Herbert, van der Hoek, Istomin, Jabeur, Kalinskaya, Karatsev, Kenin, Keys, Khachanov, Konta, S.Korda, Kudla, Kyrgios, Majchrzak, Medvedev, Mektic, Moutet, Murray, Nadal, Nishikori, Novak, Opelka, Paire, Pavic, Pavlyuchenkova, Pervolarakis, Pouille, Querrey, Raducanu, Rojer, Rublev, Sabalenka, Sandgren, Seyboth Wild, Shapovalov, Soares, Sousa, Tiafoe, Tomic, Tomova, Troicki, Verdasco, Vondroušová, Vukic, and Yastremska.

 

(Also affected were notable coaches Franco Davín, Goran Ivaniševic, Marc López, Nicolás Massú, Carlos Moyá, Petar Popovic and Alexander Zverev Sr.; in addition to commentator Patrick McEnroe, and ITF vice president Katrina Adams.)

 

Judging by the list, Roger Federer is either very lucky, or the time spent at home has done him some good.

 

Only one of the majority vaccinated players has expressed the presence of serious symptoms after getting the shot, one Jérémy Chardy. Even so, exemptions for players are likely to be few and far between.

 

…Back to one Serb whose name is on everyone’s lips.

 

Mr Djokovic, who often wins or loses in a hail of smashed racquets and lurid Serbian adjectives, faces a potential three-year ban from our shores following his recent visa cancellation.

 

The world No. 1 and figurehead of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), a post he will surely not hold for long, is set to grace us with his thoughts on recent events at the conclusion of the Australian Open.

 

As the tennis action continues, compellingly indeed in Djokovic’s absence, other critical topics in the sport remain somewhat unaddressed. Among them: Peng Shuai’s disappearance and coercion by the Chinese government, a situation that has led the WTA to pull the pin on tournaments in China and Hong Kong, a gutsy decision not without severe financial ramifications. Diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics have indicated a small show of support on the world stage.

 

Additionally, the ATP has launched an investigation into domestic abuse allegations against world No. 3 Alexander Zverev. Admittedly, the results of the probe may never be publicly released, and the allegations will linger around Zverev until addressed by a court of law. Innocent or guilty, the consensus is that the ATP should implement tougher domestic violence policies. A number of other large sporting organisations, including the NBA, actively investigate concerns over players’ conduct in their personal lives even where the matter has not been raised judicially.

 

In this light, the fact that we are bowing to Djokovic’s desire to be the centre of attention is admittedly grotesque. His immigration detention conditions bringing to attention the plight of asylum seekers in Australia may well be the one positive to come of the saga, dramatic though it has been.

 

That said, Australian tennis fans, who have been quick to roll up their sleeves to enter the sport’s biggest arenas, have one question remaining on their minds.

 

Is the jab or Djokovic the bigger prick?

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Ta Jonathan, Djokovic has certainly been noticeable as much for his off court utterances, as his on court performances: US Open antics 2020 not withstanding.

    We may recall his utterances of May 2020 when he spoke of the relationship between water and human emotions. This included talking about if we lose our temper near a water fountain, ” water reacts and scientists have proven that, that molecules in the water react to our emotions, to what is being said”.These comments were apparently made just prior to his super spreader event.

    A few years earlier he apparently required surgery on an elbow injury. It seems he was in tears at having to have a procedure performed on himself such was his aversion to the science involved in undertaking surgery.

    Then there’s his propensity to perform a victory ritual where it looks like he’s acknowledging the crowd. The reality of this ritual in his mind by doing this he’s obtaining the energy of the crowd to take him to new heights.

    Fantastic tennis player, but as a person?

    Glen!

  2. I’m triple vaxed and believe any sensible or normal people should be. That said I don’t agree with much of what you’ve written Jonathan.
    Firstly I don’t think Djokovic or Tennis Australia broke any laws or “pulled any strings” to get his Visa. The confused muddle of State and Federal regulations up to his entry left plenty of room for him to legitimately get a medical exemption to enter Australia. The Federal Government changed the rules retrospectively after the public outcry (during an election year) and the Immigration Minister used his “God” powers to withdraw the Visa and deport him.
    We are (or should be) a nation of laws and not apply them selectively to people we don’t approve of. To paraphrase the Lutheran pastor Niemoller during WW2 “First they came for the socialists; then trade unionists; then Jews – and I did not speak. When they came for me there was no-one left to speak for me”.
    We are seeing the US progressively slide into authoritarian rule, with traditions of law and democracy hanging on by a thread. Australia will follow the populist slide if we aren’t careful.
    I would have had no problem if Australia had a clear “no vax – no entry” immigration rule – but we didn’t and that’s not Djokovic’s fault.
    The rest of your article seemed to be based on your personal dislike of him. There are lots of sports people I don’t like. Or don’t agree with their views. But who said sports stars should be likeable people or social role models.
    In fact it’s their unwillingness to give in; to bend to conformity and take the easy way out that often separates the good from the great. “Progress depends on the unreasonable man”.
    I remember the nervous young Djokovic arriving in Grand Slams when Federer and Nadal were already established. It took enormous single minded strength of character to not be intimidated by their game and their record. He was stubborn and defiant but he had to be to beat them in Grand Slam finals. Something that took Andy Murray much longer. But I always found him gracious to his opponents.
    Here is an article I found persuasive about the things that shaped him. https://unherd.com/thepost/the-roots-of-novak-djokovics-vaccine-hesitancy/
    I find everything but his connection to Serbian ultra nationalists reasonable in the context of his life. He has worked brutally hard to make his “hippy” beliefs in natural medicine and mind over matter work for him. It is not a recipe for success for ordinary mortals but he has made it work for him, his family and the many charities he supports (including hospitals). I don’t naturally warm to Djokovic but knowing his story and having watched him play live and dismantle the big serving Raonic 2 years ago – I respect him enormously.
    On specifics in your article. What is the “buddying up with criminals”? I can’t think of any associations to my knowledge. I don’t want the Almanac being sued for defamation.
    The hitting a ball into a lines person that justifiably got him disqualified in the 2020 US Open was a petulant act of frustration. But it was a careless act and in no way intending to hit anyone – so be careful with “inadvertantly”. Plenty of tennis players do it out of frustration so says little about his character.
    His Presidency of the Players Association is because the ATP tour is an alliance of tournament promoters and players. There was a justifiable concern that the commercial income from TV and sponsors was going too much to promoter’s pockets and too little to prize money – particularly at the lower levels of the Tour. Djokovic was popularly elected on a platform of greater prize money share of income and a broader pyramid of rewards. So I doubt he will be easily removed from the position.
    In conclusion I see Djokovic’s stance as being pro choice for himself rather than anti vax for the majority. Something I can respect but not agree with if extended across whole communities of vulnerable people.
    Australia can’t afford to be too “holier than thou” in its sporting and political attitudes. We’ve lost most of out agriculture exports to China (which the US has gratefully taken up). Most of our higher education sector to tighter borders and racism concerns. Now a lithium mine in Serbia.
    Soon enough a Grand Slam tennis tournament to Seoul or Tokyo? The Korean car makers; Chinese distillers; European watchmakers and Arab airlines who pay our bills don’t owe us anything.

  3. Jonathan Cuch says

    Hi Peter, thank you for your thorough response. I did hope to spark some discourse with my post. My intention was not to speak for the majority, but rather to transmit an opinion piece informed by my particular views, including some levity at what could be an ironic end to the virulent GOAT debate that has raged online for years. I doubt the tally will stand at 20-20-20 for much longer, but one never knows.

    I will respond to the most salient points if I may.

    In regards to Djokovic ‘buddying up with criminals’ and your concern that the Almanac could be sued for such a statement, I refer you to Djokovic’s unwavering support for Justin Gimelstob before, during, and well after his assault conviction. It may be that Djokovic is too willing to assume his friends’ innocence in these scenarios. He has certainly been very vocal in his support for Zverev, though as noted, the Zverev situation still boils down to untested allegations.

    I am not sure that sportspeople shouldn’t be role models, seeing as his second visa deportation case relied on the protests his actions seemed to inform. Indeed, I feel that Djokovic could have made a stronger statement to encourage vaccination in the less-than-half-vaccinated nation of Serbia, though understandably he may have alienated some of his significant fan base in the region.

    I must admit that Djokovic’s approach to fitness and a gluten-free lifestyle are to be admired, as are his achievements and cerebral style of play.

    I also concede that ‘inadvertently’ was a tongue-in-cheek way to refer to the US Open 2020 incident, but this is coming from a man who told the crowd (in Serbian) to lick his genitals at the 2013 Madrid Open against Dimitrov. Both heat of the moment events and perhaps attributable to the pressure of an individual sport, but I find Djokovic’s flaws to be piling up over the years, rather than humanising him or making him more ‘relatable’ in the way a superhero movie may try to convey a villain’s character. In other words, I don’t find this repeated intrigue to be at all endearing.

    I still find Mr Djokovic’s actions objectionable, whilst acknowledging that many parties in Australia gave him the wrong information regarding his entry into the country.

    I have enjoyed watching his tennis for years. He is clearly the Goliath that players of the 2010s and later have aspired to beat.

    Thank you for sharing the Unherd article. However, it is hard to sympathise with someone whose actions seem to be so calculating and possibly damaging to the sport. Let us see what 2022 brings.

  4. Two of the longer responses to an article in Almanac history! Wasn’t expecting that.

    I have changed the contentious reference to ‘colourful tennis identities’.

    For what it’s worth, I think the way the whole entry issue was handled was poor.

    Thanks for your piece Jonathan. And welcome to the Almanac.

  5. Jonathan – you obviously have an encyclopaedic knowledge of tennis and make a lot of good points in your piece. My long response was because I had been stewing on similar issues from a different perspective, and as usual procrastinated instead of committing as you did. Respect.
    In a polarised world one of the great benefits of a forum like the Footy Almanac is the ability to tease out and shape our views – not just expound and righteously defend as in most social media.
    One other thing I find fascinating is how charm and innocent looks grants a certain licence in Western culture not granted those of dark or foreign appearance. Zverev looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and has largely escaped the public shaming that his domestic violence warrants. (The Ben Rothenberg articles are very damning). He is likely the product of a screwed up childhood with his controlling, over achieving Russian parents – but his public denials rather than accepting responsibility shrieks of entitlement & PR spin.
    If Alexander Zverev had Djokovic’s dark looks and ruthless demeanour would we have judged him more harshly? Sport and celebrity is partly pantomime. Villains need to wear the appropriate uniform.

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