Novak Djokovic saga still looms large over Australian Open


here has long been an inevitability to the outcome of the men’s singles competition at the Australian Open.

Usually, Novak Djokovic turns up and wins, or at least has done for nine of the tournament’s last 14 editions, including the last three.

The only inevitability about the 2022 Australian Open is that the Djokovic saga will only merely get more unbecoming.

Judging by the manner in which events have played out since his arrival more than a week ago, it seems unlikely it will finally be resolved smoothly.

Djokovic has been asked to appear before immigration officials once more tomorrow morning while his lawyers were embroiled in a legal hearing with Government lawyers late into the Melbourne night, clarifying that the player would seek an injunction against the decision and also that he would not be detained today.

There is the obvious argument that the Serbian has been the creator of his current plight – had he been vaccinated against Covid-19 none of this saga would be playing out.

But even amid the wrongs of breaking Covid protocols for an interview with L’Equipe newspaper having previously tested positive, he also arrived in Australia having been led to believe he had a legitimate medical exemption to be there and compete. And in the ensuing days he has been used as a political pawn by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Government.

So strongly has the Djokovic situation hung over the whole tournament build-up that little attention has been given to potential protagonists to lift the men’s trophy in two weeks’ time. Predicting that when it’s still unclear who will be in the main draw is no mean feat.

Without Djokovic, Medvedev stands out as the clear favourite. He was one of the form players of last year, reached the final of last year’s Australian Open and then beat Djokovic in the final of the US Open.

He ended the year well as a finalist in the ATP Tour Finals and has started 2022 brightly with some strong showings in the ATP Cup.

The other leading protagonists are Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal. As ever, there are question marks about how Nadal’s knees hold up but his form is good having won his only warm-up event of 2022.

Tsitsipas clearly loves Australia – he has reached the semi-finals on two occasions in the past three years – while Zverev is as ever the other name from the next generation in the conversation. The problem is both men have had occasion to blow hot and cold in the majors.

British hopes are three-fold with Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans, plus Andy Murray showing something of a rebirth in Sydney. Evans has looked in good form while Norrie has started the year more speculatively with three straight defeats. Whether that’s a hangover from the season of his life remains to be seen.

And what of Murray? No one quite knows, the player himself included, how the body holds up having had so much tennis already in his legs and hips this year.

In the women’s draw, Ash Barty is the clear favourite having won her warm-up event. But much like for Murray during his Wimbledon heyday, the home expectation has always been enormous and she has yet to make it past the semi-finals in Melbourne.

And who knows what shape Naomi Osaka will find herself in. She has played just one tournament since losing in the third round of the US Open in September and pulled out of that one before its completion.

Other players in the conversation include Iga Swiatek, Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep among others, while British hopes will primarily be focused on Emma Raducanu.

Her current form suggests a repeat of what happened in New York back in September looks unlikely, but then the same could have been said back then in only her second Grand Slam.

For Australian Open boss Craig Tiley and his staff, there is a desperation for the tournament to start, for conversations about Djokovic to come to an end and for the focus to finally be on the tennis.


By Malvi