Even after being expelled from the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic will retain his position as the world’s top male tennis player at the conclusion of the tournament, which started on Monday without him.
Still, he possesses the French Open and Wimbledon trophies in his hands, and his flexible limbs, great tennis talents, and a lengthy history of perseverance in the face of hostile fans and enormous odds are all still with him.
The fact that Sunday was a watershed moment in the sport that is frequently defined by eras and the winners who define them would come as no surprise given the fact that he was escorted to the Melbourne airport gate by immigration authorities was symbolic of what was about to happen.
Djokovic is 34 years old, and as he was forced to leave Australia against his will after his visa was revoked, a new generation of taller, more talented stars in men’s tennis was preparing to challenge him for the title at the Grand Slam tournament he has dominated like no other and may never play again if his three-year ban from the country is not revoked by the Australian government.
In a statement on Sunday, John Isner, a friend of Djokovic and one of the top-ranked American players, said: “This obviously has the potential to set him back.” “I honestly have no idea which way it will turn out. It might take a long time for him to recover, or it could spark a fire under him.”
Djokovic has recovered from dismal moments in the past and has been able to return to winning ways. With personal issues and a lingering right elbow injury, he battled with motivation and lost his edge for more than a year in 2017, after what was possibly the most dominating stretch of his career. With a strong belief in natural healing, he made the choice not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus at the beginning of his illness. However, after playing and battling at the Australian Open in 2018 with his elbow supported by a compression sleeve, he made the decision to have surgery, which he described as “tearfully emotional.”
In early 2020, Djokovic was continuing on a run, having started the year with 18 consecutive wins until the pandemic shut down the sport for five months in the summer of the same year. During the forced break in June, he organised an ill-advised exhibition tour in Serbia and Croatia that turned into a superspreader event and public-relations bonfire, during which he and other players and team members, including Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, danced and partied unmasked in a Balkan nightclub, completely out of sync with the global mood.
The tour has been postponed. Several players, including Djokovic and his wife Jelena, as well as Ivanisevic, were found to have the coronavirus. When Djokovic returned to Grand Slam competition in 2020, at the U.S. Open, he proceeded to eliminate himself from the tournament in the fourth round by hitting a ball in frustration after losing his serve and accidentally striking the throat of a lineswoman, who was subsequently hospitalised. He was disqualified from the event by the tournament referee and returned to Europe to rehabilitate. Dominic Thiem, a young Austrian tennis player, finally won the championship.
After a string of questionable decisions and a tarnished reputation, another Djokovic slump was a distinct possibility. However, in a testament to his tenacity and talent, he bounced back in 2021 with one of his best seasons, winning the first three Grand Slam tournaments and coming within one match of achieving the first men’s Grand Slam in singles in 52 years before losing to Daniil Medvedev in the U.S. Open final.
While growing up in Belgrade during the brutal split of Yugoslavia, when NATO bombardment caused him to cease tennis training, the player went on to win a championship. He left home at the age of 12 to attend a tennis school in Germany, with his parents and relatives relying on loans and improvised funds to pay for his training in the belief that tennis would be his and their ticket to a better life. Srdjan Djokovic once gathered the family around the kitchen table and banged a 10 Deutsche mark note into the table, explaining that this was all the money they had left. Djokovic shared this storey with me.
One of Djokovic’s distinguishing characteristics is his exuberance. In person, his life force and restless curiosity shine through, but he has expended a great deal of effort in recent years on causes other than winning tennis matches, including challenging the status quo on the men’s tour and forming a new player group to advocate for change and more decision-making power for players at all levels of the rankings, which has been unsuccessful so far. Aside from helping to launch a new tournament in Belgrade, he has also donated to humanitarian organisations in Serbia and the Balkan area, and he has collaborated on a behind-the-scenes documentary that will be published in 2022.
In Nadal’s entire career, he has never been the only representation of the Big Three in a Grand Slam event. With Federer out with an injury, this will be the first time in his career that he will be the only representative of his team in a Grand Slam tournament.
One of the most intriguing and long-lasting periods in sports history, they share the men’s singles record with 20 Grand Slam singles championships each. It is possible to finish in a tie at the end of the tournament. Given their ages and the brilliance that has emerged in their wake, they represent the pinnacle of an era. All that has transpired in Melbourne over the previous 11 days has the potential to speed the process.