The scenario is pretty clear after his pullout from ATP Cup in Sydney on Wednesday - world No.1 Novak Djokovic is certainly doubtful for Australian Open this year. The writing had been on the wall for the last few months though there was a glimmer of hope when the nine-time winner at Melbourne had permitted his name to go up on the provisional entry list - perhaps banking on the ‘medical exemption’ for the vaccination that he had reportedly sought for.
The first Slam of the year starts from January 17, but Djokovic’s pullout from the prestigeous team event in Sydney - given the ostensible pride that he takes in playing under the Serbian flag - makes his no-show almost a certainty now. Right from the Australian Prime Minister to Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley, all have unequivocally maintained that full vaccination would be mandatory for participation in the marquee event and it’s almost impossible to see them doing a U-turn now.
Earlier on Wednesday, Australia’s home favourite Nick Kyrgios sounded an alarm bell that the absence of the Big Three of men’s tennis will be actually disastrous for the tournament - and he was spot-on. Yes, the tennis world has to learn to move on without them in a few years’ time - but to usher in the first slam of the year with none of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and now Djokovic certainly threatens to turn the event into a damp squib.
Well, what does one make of Djoko’s steadfast refusal to ‘disclose’ his vaccination status? Or his father Srdjan’s outburst on a Serbian TV channel last month that his son was being subjected to blackmail to participate in the tournament?
“Everyone has the right to decide on their health,’’ Djokovic Sr said. Surely, but one would be tempted to bring in the example of Pierre-Hughes Herbert, the French five-time grand slam doubles champion in the context. An accomplished winner with partner Nicholas Mahut, Herbert withdrew much ahead of deadline - allowing Mahut to choose an alternative partner.
The Frenchman has been clearly more forthcoming on the issue, clearly saying that it’s a “personal choice’’ that would keep him away from the season-opening Major. Now, what’s stopping Djokovic, an erstwhile President of ATP Players’ Council, to come out in the clear and commit that he will stay away from the tournament unless granted an exemption?
Let’s ponder this - any individual is entitled to his or her opinion on a sensitive issue like vaccination and the ‘anti-vax’ lobby is a growing one now among the celebrities. Granted that Djokovic is very much his own man, but he had already pushed the envelope once in 2020 by endangering the health of a number of top players by inviting them to the tour of Adria with the pandemic at it’s peak - with him and wife Jelena also testing positive for Coronavirus.
At the end of the day, Djokovic is a high-flying, uber rich sports personality who makes a living by playing tennis. If he is expecting a preferential treatment rather than taking a definitive stance like Herbert, then he is just being difficult!