It seems like there is only one story about the Australian Open as it nears, but there are many places in Australia. When some of the world’s most famous tennis players came to speak to the media on Saturday, they took off their masks one by one. But they didn’t let their guards down.
It’s a very delicate situation, the case of Novak Djokovic. A federal court hearing is set for Sunday to see if the world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player will get his visa back and be able to defend his Australian Open title, even tho he hasn’t been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
When the cameras started rolling on Saturday, Novak Djokovic was being held at the Park Hotel. Media Day went on at Melbourne Park without the reigning champion, who was being held at the hotel. Normally, he would have been at an event where the players were alone on the dais and the news media were separated from each other. Because of the situation, Djokovic was not interviewed on Saturday.
In fact, he was still there when his teammates played a game of “Question and Answer” before the start of the Australian Open on Monday (with or without Djokovic).
Naomi Osaka, the Japanese player who has been one of the most outspoken about social issues in tennis, was a little more careful this time. She said that the decision was up to the government, not tennis players, but said that she could understand how the scrutiny felt.
In a place where people were asking about that person, she said, “I know what it’s like.” “It’s not the best thing.” Try to keep it upbeat.
That wasn’t Rafael Nadal, one of Djokovic’s longtime rivals, tho. He was willing to play near the lines.
One thing, Nadal said. That Novak Djokovic is a great player is very clear. Even tho nobody in history is more important than the event, the player stays and then leaves, and more people come.
Even tho Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, myself, and Bjorn Borg, who was a great player at the time, kept going, said the man. “The Australian Open is more important than any one player,” says the speaker. It’s fine if he finally plays. As long as he doesn’t play, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open.
The Djokovic question must have come up for some players. They must have talked about it with their agents and entourages to make sure they were saying the right thing. During the match on Saturday, Rafael Nadal’s body language looked like it was just as spontaneous as his freewheeling English. He made a lot of gesticulations as he looked for the right words in his second language.
I asked him what lessons could be learned from the Djokovic mess. I didn’t call it a mess, tho.
Despite what Rafael Nadal said, he thought things had gone too far, and the early-season results were not getting the attention they should have. They were not alone. All three: Alex de Minaur of Australia, Garbie Muguruza of Spain, and Emma Raducanu, the thoughtful British teenager who won the US Open last year, all agreed with that.
“I think that the situation has taken a little bit away from the great tennis that was being played over the summer.”
During her speech, she talked about Andy Murray’s story. Murray, who has had an artificial hip for a long time, made it to the final in Sydney at age 34. This is his first tour final since 2019. Raducanu could have also talked about Rafael Nadal, who came back from a long break to win the singles title last Sunday at a preliminary ATP 250 event in Melbourne.
As for Djokovic’s case, Nadal said he was “a little tired of it,” but he thinks it’s important to talk about tennis.
In fact, there have been a lot of things to do in Melbourne before the tournaments have even begun.
Reports of widespread match-fixing dominated the news in the run-up to the 2016 World Cup. Bush fires in 2020 and pandemic quarantine restrictions in 2021 made it hard for people to see much of the tennis. Some players had to hit balls against walls and mattresses in their hotel rooms to keep a rhythm (and sanity).
Even so, the focus of 2022 is on the fate of one player, not just any player. This is a big difference from the other games. Djokovic is a nine-time winner of the Australian Open, and he’s been at the top of the rankings for a record 355th week. He’s also becoming more and more popular as the best player of this golden era, even tho he still has 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
The French Open has always been Nadal’s, but the Australian Open has always been Djokovic’s. It will be interesting to see how the pandemic standoff in Melbourne affects Djokovic’s legacy down under and beyond many years from now.
At the news conference, Nick Kyrgios, a young tennis player who was not at the news conference because he was sick with the coronavirus, said that Djokovic should keep fighting for his title in the podcast “No Boundaries” on Saturday.
In Kyrgios’ words, “We’re treating him like he’s a weapon of mass destruction at the moment.” Djokovic is in Australia to play tennis.
Kyrgios said that, as a person, Djokovic must feel very alone. He said that Djokovic had reached out to him on social media to thank him for the support. There is a lot of danger when you think the world is against you and you can’t do anything right.
One of Djokovic’s friends, Alexander Zverev, said on Saturday that we shouldn’t pay too much attention to what’s going on right now.
Still, he won 20 Grand Slams. His record of being at No. 1 still stands. In the end, Zverev said that he still has the most Masters series. I still think he is one of the best players of all time. This is obviously not a good thing for everyone, but for him, it’s even worse than that. But don’t question him because of this.
Legacies, of course, aren’t just about how well you did. When you’ve been a fan of a champion for a long time, you keep your memories and excitement close.
Djokovic is a complicated person who can be both self-serving and generous at the same time. For example, he spends a lot of time and energy promoting lower-ranked players and supporting athletes from Serbia and the rest of the Balkan region.