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Post Australian Open 2022: Djokovic Barred
Created by John Eipper on 01/22/22 3:53 AM

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Australian Open 2022: Djokovic Barred (David Duggan, USA, 01/22/22 3:53 am)

The sports world and society generally have gotten their panties in twist over Novak Djokovic's forced departure from the Land Down Under. Having twice contracted-and recovered from Covid, he was given an exemption from Oz's draconian vaccine policy by Tennis Australia, the sport's governing authority, and a visa. But the country's health czar revoked the visa, the courts upheld the decision and Nole had to leave without the chance to defend his title. This shows how short-sighted Australia is in respect of its place on the world sports stage. It may recover, but after a similar situation 40 years ago, it took the Australian Open nearly 15 years to re-achieve its status.

WAISers may be too young to remember this, but Oz (as the Aussie Open has been known, perhaps because "we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto") wasn't always the first "slam" on the tennis calendar. After 21-year old Jimmy Connors won the tournament in 1974 (his first of 8 GS victories), the powers that be noted that top players weren't making the trip (it's 12 time zones away from the US and 6 from most of Europe). Bjorn Borg made it once early in his career (1974), and Johnny Mac didn't make it there until 1983. So, the powers thought, "Hey, if these guys are aiming for the Grand Slam, wouldn't it be great if ours was the last tournament of the year." So they switched it to mid-December, right after the Davis Cup and just before Christmas, thinking of course that tennis players didn't want to take some time off to be with their families.

The upshot was that instead of stirring up interest, the schedule change made the Aussie Open a backwater. Journeymen like Roscoe Tanner, Brian Teacher, Mark Edmondson and Johan Kriek won the tournament in the 1977-85 period and even a stiff like John Lloyd (the first Mr. Chris Evert) got to the finals. Only one of these ever got near another Slam (Tanner, 1979, Wimbledon, losing to Borg). So, the Aussie authorities figured out that if we're going to be relevant, we have to be first: the only way that a player can win the GS is if he goes through Melbourne. But it was not until the 1991 Becker v. Lendl match that the final was anything close to a title bout (with both players having won more than 1 GS event before). After that, you have to go to the 1995 Agassi-Sampras final and then the 2009 Federer-Nadal 5-set epic to find a final match where both players had multiple GS victories at the coin flip. Tellingly, no Aussie male has won the tournament since Edmondson in 1976 (nor an American since 2003--Agassi).

Djokovic had won 9 Oz trophies and had never lost in the finals, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Murray (four times), Nadal (twice), Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev. I have no problem defending him as the best of all time. Though tied with Rafa and Roger in the GS total count (20), he's the only one to have won all 4 tournaments twice, and his finals success rate at 67% is better than Roger's and only slightly worse than Nadal's (71%), whose record is fattened by his dominance in the French Open. He is the only player to have beaten Rafa twice at Roland Garros and has finished the year at #1 in the world a record seven times. He has lifetime winning records against both Roger and Rafa (though Rafa has beaten the Djoker 10 times out of 17 in the Slams). Even if he hasn't won an Olympic gold medal--nor did Pete Sampras. His break from the Association of Touring Professionals trade union (of which he had been the president for four years) to start one that actually has the players' interests at heart rather than the corporate sponsors shows his concern for the sport's lesser lights.

Yeah, Nole can be abrasive and obnoxious, but so were Johnny Mac and Jimbo Connors, without the levity and the leaven of human kindness (his rapport with the fans--particularly younger and mentally challenged--is remarkable). You can't run a tournament without players and the Australians' disqualification of the best player to have graced the GreenSet surface at Melbourne Park seems like arrogance bordering on stupidity. At one point Australia had a film industry rivaling Hollywood (Gallipoli, Mad Max), but its best actors left (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe). Maybe its tennis authorities will recognize that knocking out a player for reasons unrelated to medical science serves it no good--pun intended.

JE comments:  The visa decision on Djokovic was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" matter for Australia.  Imagine the accusations of preferential treatment if the authorities had made an exception. Oz 2022, like so many sporting events of our infected era, will go down in history with an asterisk.

Regardless David, I hope you'll send us a recap after the 30th.

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  • In Australia, Djokovic Knew the Rules (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/23/22 4:05 AM)
    I have read David Duggan's post about Novak Djokovic's melodrama at the Australian Open. As I am a tennis fan and also a mediocre amateur player, I feel compelled to comment on it.

    Obviously I have great admiration for Djokovic as an athlete, but in terms of his personality and especially his behavior during this circus, I can't feel sympathy for him. I've felt the same way in the past with other athletes, for example with Diego Maradona, an exceptional soccer player, but with atrocious behavior in his private life, as well as with other prominent public figures. In general it is difficult to separate the private and the public, but when one interferes with the other it is usually disappointing. Exemplary behavior should be expected of them.

    In Djokovic's case, he knew in advance the rules to enter the country, which was to be vaccinated against Covid. Although his personal rejection of vaccines should be respected, the rules and regulations of the recipient country must above all be followed, no matter how absurd they may seem to you.

    His rude attempt to manipulate and force his entry into the country, and his participation in the tournament, is an arrogant and disrespectful attitude. Of course there were many mistakes in the whole incident, but it would be absurd to deny that the main responsibility is his. Possibly he lied about having suffered from Covid, exhibiting a positive PCR test of uncertain result, and later participating in public events, or lying on the application form about having visited other countries, all of which led to a judicial and administrative process full of contradictions and mistakes on the part of the Australian administration.

    To conclude, I disagree with David. It seems right to me that Djokovic has been expelled from the country and the tournament, whose rules, even if they seem excessive or absurd, above all must be respected. All citizens and visitors must do the same, being public figures or prominent athletes.

    JE comments:  Agreed.  Justice should be blind to matters of fame and social status.  Way too often this is not the case.  WAISer Paul Pitlick is of the same view.  Read on...

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  • The Djokovic Affair is Simple... (Paul Pitlick, USA 01/23/22 5:27 AM)
    I usually love David Duggan's writing style and content, but the substance of the Djokovic story is much shorter than this.

    The tennis player (indeed all of us) should have just been vaccinated. Period. Currently, after two years the US is in its 6th wave of COVID, far more cases than previously, and according to the NY Times data, 3866 Americans died of COVID just yesterday. That number has been rising.

    Next topic...

    JE comments:  Can we already be in the sixth wave?  March 14th (my birthday, ouch) will mark two years since Covid officially became a pandemic.  (March 11th can also lay claim to anniversary status.)  Its only major precursor of modern times, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919, didn't last this long.

    Soon enough, we may have to change our name to the World Association of Influenza Studies...

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