Novak Djokovic could finish this Australian Open fortnight with a 21st Grand Slam crown. That would place the Serbian one slot above Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in major title stakes, perhaps sealing forever the bragging rights between the sport’s trinity.
Should it happen, it’ll doubtless be a triumph of extraordinary shot-making, of the most riveting counter, but it’ll sadly be lacking in the sparkle of spirit. A win that raises the bar for the playing field, like Margaret Court‘s record haul of 24 major titles. Silverware for the showcase, not quite sky-scraping standard.
Djokovic’s determination to own the crown of the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ has never been more evident than in the last couple of weeks. The 34-year-old, tennis’ most dominant athlete in the last decade, flouted every conceivable rule in an attempt to play the opening Grand Slam of 2022.
On arrival in Melbourne, the travel history proffered by the world No. 1 acknowledged that he had not journeyed anywhere in the preceding 14 days from his port of departure, before flying into Australia. His social media footprint, however, revealed that he had been in Spain, at the Soto Tennis Academy, in the second half of December. In the midst of children. Unmasked, quite literally.
The Serb – who has seemingly broken the isolation protocols of his own country following his December 16 ‘positive’ Covid-19 test which incidentally clinched his ‘medical exemption’ to enter Australia as he’s not vaccinated – has been riding on a series of false declarations. He has now blamed those on ‘human error’. And an ‘error in judgement’.
The QR Code of his test result too has reportedly responded with alarming fickleness – negative and then positive.
To log all of that in the unforced error column would be simplistic, given the position he holds in the sport.
Some two years ago, along with Canadian Vasek Pospisil, Djokovic floated the Professional Tennis Players Association, pledging to use his voice for the common cause. He was supported by a large section of the player community, doubles pros and those playing on the Challenger and Futures Tours. He had shown courage not just in the enterprise, but even in the timing of the launch. In the midst of a raging pandemic, on the eve of the 2020 US Open. The man, who had shown rare character in an each-to-his-own world, has since wasted no time in setting himself apart, narrowing the justice system to suit himself.
Renata Voracova, a 38-year-old doubles pro ranked 82 in the world, found herself in the same ‘detention centre’ where Djokovic was housed. She had entered Australia in December and played a first round match at a warm-up tournament in Melbourne before her visa was cancelled. The Australian Border Force overruled the vaccination exemption, also given to Voracova for reasons identical to Djokovic’s. She too had recently contracted and recovered from Covid-19.
While Tennis Australia openly rooted for the men’s world No. 1, the Czech woman was put on an airplane a week ago, following a six-hour interrogation. “I didn’t know what my rights are,” Voracova told Reuters. “There were people with me from Tennis Australia, lawyers who were helping me. They didn’t appeal to the court. I didn’t know I could do it.”
On Monday, when the chair umpire calls love-all at Melbourne Park, the chalked lines will highlight an uneven playing field. A draw that is headlined by the Serbian multi-millionaire, but one that wouldn’t accommodate Voracova.