It started as a nightmare, but ended as a dream. If the opening days of the Australian Open tennis tournament were consumed in the amazing story of Novak Djokovic, the closing weekend was pure tennis with historic titles for Ashleigh Barty and Rafael Nadal. But now, with the tournament over, some storms are brewing before we get to 2023.
“No,” said Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, when asked if Djokovic is going to sue the tournament after being deported from the country for failing to comply with coronavirus health regulations.
“There is going to be lots of reports on different things, but we are in a position as we focus on delivering an event right now, and we will continue to deliver a great event.”
What is certain is that Djokovic, who since the deportation has not opened his mouth other than to congratulate Barty and Nadal on their successes, has a menu of options at his disposal.
He can blame many for what happened to him, and not just the tournament. Leaving aside the option of him blaming himself - he has so far shown no remorse for the succession of missteps over the past week - the Australian government could also be sued, as could that of the State of Victoria, and even the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis.
Despite that looming future, Tiley is convinced that in January 2023 the world number one will be in Melbourne to seek his tenth Australian Open title.
“At the end of the day, he’s the number one player in the world and he really loves the Australian Open.”
While Tiley takes a break after the toughest weeks of his professional career, Nadal is enjoying a career revival. He added his 21st Grand Slam and now looks down on Djokovic and Roger Federer from a higher rung.
Moreover, the immediate prospect suggests a 22nd title for Nadal rather than a 21-21 with Djokovic or Federer.
The next Grand Slam tournament is Roland Garros, the French Open. The Swiss will not play, because he is still recovering physically, and it is highly likely that Djokovic will not be able to enter France if he is not vaccinated. And the Serb does not want to get vaccinated, even if during the tournament it became known that he bought a factory... of vaccines.
Thus, Nadal, owner of two Olympic gold medals, has the advantage to win his 14th title at the Bois de Boulogne.
Barty, happy for the title, the first for an Australian in 44 years, helped to put a smile back on the face of Tiley and his team, in the firing line after the scandal surrounding Djokovic. There is pressure for Tiley to resign, but he claims he has no intention of doing so.
But the problem stemming from a world number one who perceives himself to be above the rules is there, and it goes beyond Australia to become a painful third wheel of an entire sport, of tennis itself. A task for a sport hyper fragmented in terms of responsibilities and powers, but also for the American Dave Haggerty.
President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), this week’s IOC session in Beijing may provide Haggerty with advice from other experienced leaders of world sport.
Anything can be useful to him. The ITF President had planned to travel to Australia to attend the first Grand Slam of the season, but could not: a positive covid prevented him from doing so. One more paradox of a January 2022 that will weigh heavily in the major history of tennis.