Almost one year ago today, Novak Djokovic was holed-up refugee detention. In a few short weeks time, Novak Djokovic will be playing on Rod Laver Arena- his ‘la decima’ bid back on track. Djokovic is gunning for a record 10th Australian Open title- a feat no man has ever achieved. Incredibly- no man has even won more hard-court slams than Djokovic. Bill Tilden came closest and won 7 US Open titles in the 1920s.
However, this upcoming Australian Open will be one unlike any other in history. Novak Djokovic will be playing in front of a crowd and a country that deported him in one of the most bizarre displays you will ever see. In hindsight- to most, it now may now seem like the situation is water under the bridge. By all accounts, Djokovic has well and truly moved on. Fair play to him.
The Friday before the Australian Open commenced (Monday), Djokovic was still drawn to play Miomir Kecmanovic in the round of 128 of the Australian Open. The courts had formally sided in Novak’s favour and overturned the cancellation of his visa. At this point, the Australian Open draw still stands with Djokovic playing on Rod Laver Arena at 7.30 PM on Monday night. Let’s deconstruct the situation from an athletic perspective. Djokovic was likely in 100 percent preparation mode at this point, ready to be thrown in the deep end to play a top 100 player in the world- prime time under the lights. This is the Australian Open we are talking about after all- a tournament with a total financial commitment of $59 million dollars.
Moreover, purely from an athletic standpoint (and all other issues aside)- has there ever been an athlete scheduled to play a major tournament while being stuck in immigration detention? If that did eventuate, what an athletic story that would have been. However, the last few years of complete abnormality have served up situations which would not make this possibility seem too unusual. In January 2021, after quarantining in a hotel room for two weeks, Novak developed a 2.5 mm abdominal tear and managed to win the Australian Open despite such an extreme injury concern.
Let’s also not forget 2020- where dangerous levels of bushfire smoke almost led to the tournament being cancelled altogether. Funnily enough, had this happened, it would not have been the only tournament cancelled in 2020 (with Wimbledon being abandoned due to coronavirus). Novak Djokovic did still win the 2020 Australian Open, despite the backdrop of issues plaguing the tournament. It almost seems like Djokovic has a penchant for winning majors in the most unlikely of circumstances.
However, back to the topic. Djokovic will be playing in a country which deported him the last time he was here. Djokovic also had his name dragged through the Australian media in a way very few foreign celebrities have experienced. The media hype has massively died down, which will work tremendously in Novak’s favour. Nonetheless, Djokovic is one of those rare athletes who perform better under adversity than praise. Who knows- perhaps Djokovic playing in the 2022 Australian Open would have been the most ideal crowd for Djokovic.
All in all- what do you think the crowd reception will be to Djokovic when he plays the upcoming Australian Open. Will he be greeted by boisterous cheers or thunderous boos?