Paris: Novak Djokovic believes his prolonged but self-inflicted absences in 2022 make him even more “super-pumped and motivated” to finish a year, which started with the ignominy of deportation from Australia on a high.
The 35-year-old swept to back-to-back titles when he comfortably defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 in the Astana final on Sunday, a week after securing the Tel Aviv trophy.
“I could not ask for a better restart of the season. I’m super-pumped and motivated to end the season as well as I have done these past couple of weeks,” said the former world No 1.
Equalling Sampras' mark
Djokovic now has four titles from just 10 events this season following victories in Rome and at Wimbledon.
His win in the Italian capital in May gave him a 38th Masters; his Wimbledon triumph in July then equalled Pete Sampras’ mark of seven at the All England Club and took him to 21 Grand Slams.
Only Rafael Nadal, with 22, has more men’s majors.
All this in a year which saw him booted out of Melbourne and banned from travelling to North America over his continued refusal to be vaccinated.
With the exception of the Laver Cup in London, which doubled up as Roger Federer’s farewell, Djokovic didn’t play for the best part of three months after Wimbledon.
His “restart” in Israel came 16 years after he last played in the country.
Djokovic’s determination not to waver over his vaccination stance meant he missed two of the year’s four Slams, at the Australian and US Opens, and four of eight Masters in Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati.
However, his win in Kazakhstan on Sunday allowed him to book a place in the ATP Finals for a 15th time — only Federer (18) and Jimmy Connors and Nadal (16 each) have reached the season-ending showpiece on more occasions.
When the event takes place in Turin in November, the Serb will attempt to draw level with Federer as a six-time winner having been crowned champion in 2008 and every year from 2012-15.
Before then, Djokovic, the only man to have won all Masters titles twice, will defend his Paris Masters crown.
“I’m just very grateful and blessed to be able to play this well at this stage of my life,” Djokovic said on Sunday. “You know, 35 is not 25.”
When his roller-coaster year ends, Djokovic will hope he’ll be able to fly to Melbourne and claim a 10th Australian Open despite the cancellation of his visa in January triggering a three-year ban on returning.
The signs are encouraging.
“We are on the right track to win back all the top players,” Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley told The Australian newspaper last week.
“We are in a different time than nine months ago and I think the environment has completely changed. People are moving freely around the world again and we hope to have the best players here in January.”
But opposition lawmaker and former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Monday, waiving Djokovic’s visa ban to let him play the Australian Open would be a “slap in the face” for Australian people, who vaccinated for Covid-19. The former world No 1 is barred from the country until 2025 but can have his three-year visa ban waived by the government.
Australia in July scrapped a rule that required international travellers to declare their Covid vaccination status. Andrews said, however, that the rule change should have no bearing on Djokovic’s case.
“There would have been other people in similar circumstances that have also had their visas cancelled,” the lawmaker told ABC Radio on Monday.
“So if immigration now chooses to make a special allowance for Novak Djokovic the obvious question is what are they going to do about anyone else who may be in similar circumstances?”
Slap in the face
No comment was immediately available from Djokovic. Australia’s Home Affairs ministry reiterated that it does not comment on individual cases.
Andrews said lifting Djokovic’s ban would be a “slap in the face for those people in Australia who did the right thing (and) got vaccinated.
“(Why should) Novak Djokovic be allowed back into the country simply because he’s a high-ranking tennis player with many millions of dollars?” she added.
“It shouldn’t be just one rule for (him) and a different rule for everyone else.”