Will grand slam challenges continue to haunt Novak Djokovic in his GOAT quest?



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Will grand slam challenges continue to haunt Novak Djokovic in his GOAT quest?

Novak Djokovic’s 10th Australian Open title has been denied, having departed Australia under a cloud of controversy amid his unvaccinated status. The 20-time slam champ was ousted over the messy exemption he was granted by Tennis Australia initially and all the damaging information that emerged about his travels and public appearances while COVID positive.

The international disaster that occurred Down Under is a chaotic situation that the other slams would like to avoid. At all costs. While Tennis Australia was eager to grant a seemingly rule-bending ‘exemption’ to the Australian Open’s defending champion, the French Open thought it was safe to offer a “bubble” exception to the reigning Roland Garros winner as well, with the French Sports Minister, Roxana Maracineanu, stating, “There are health protocols imposed for major events by the relevant federations which would permit someone like Novak Djokovic to enter the country”.

That was last week. The French Open doesn’t want to repeat what went down in Australia Just like Australia, France was willing to make elitist exceptions for a rich and famous foreigner (and in the case of the French Open, male, foreigner, that is), while imposing a strict mandate on its own citizens.

More than 95% of the top ATP and WTA players have been fully vaccinated, and 92% in an Australian poll opposed granting Djokovic the exemption in the first place. After watching that moronic attitude implode in the federal courts of Australia, no grand slam wants to court that kind of catastrophic publicity and the French Sports Ministry has reversed course.

They issued a statement that said there will be no exceptions to their strict vaccine pass law, where proof of vaccine certificates are required at many public places, including if you want to sip a cappuccino on the Champs Elysée.

"This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice," the ministry said, according to Reuters. "As far as Roland Garros is concerned, it's in May.

The situation may change between now and then and we hope it'll be more favorable. So we'll see but clearly there's no exemption."

The aftermath in Australia has resulted in a thorough review of the Australian Open to be conducted after the tournament concludes. No grand slam wants that kind of scrutiny But where does this leave the world No.

1 player in his quest to surpass the other two members of the Big 3, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, for a seemingly elusive 21st grand slam? This win-at-all-costs pursuit of Djokovic’s seemed to cloud his judgement.

And his aggression towards this goal at the expense of his meticulously crafted reputation has rubbed many fans the wrong way. It has also furthered the character chasm between him and the other two legends he shares 20 slams with.

Novak Djokovic will likely continue to face hurdles to his grand slam ambitions as he will probably be barred from the next slam, Roland Garros, if he insists on remaining unvaccinated.

Of the four slams, Wimbledon may end up being the most accommodating, since the All England Lawn and Tennis Club (AELTC) is yet to finalize their policies on the matter, even though they had alluded to a “COVID bubble” previously.

However, Djokovic fans shouldn’t hold their breadth since the grand slams tend to operate along similar philosophies (look at how they imposed sanctions on Naomi Osaka when she refused to attend press conferences for mental health reasons).

Wimbledon is the last grand slam the Serbian tennis player won, which cemented his equal status with his great rivals Federer and Nadal. Currently unvaccinated individuals are allowed entry into the country, and only required to isolate for 10 days.

Reading the room in Australia and with France following suit, the AELTC will probably review its own policies as well. The U.S. Open takes place in New York, which adopted pretty austere COVID policies early on, with a U.S. Open representative already making it clear where they stand, stating that Flushing Meadows will mirror New York City Department of Health guidelines.

Furthermore, gaining entry into the country is not even guaranteed since foreign air travelers were required to be fully vaccinated since last fall. There are a few exceptions to that rule, but no sports official is looking to get into hot water over favoritism to international athletes.

Besides, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) have denied exceptions for "for religious reasons or other moral convictions." Will Djokovic be satisfied by other events on the ATP calendar? What’s left for the 34-year-old athlete? Novak Djokovic is the only tennis player to have won all Masters 1000 events—and twice, at that rate—and there are opportunities that abound for other tennis events on the ATP calendar.

After the Australian Open, many of the upcoming tournaments simply require a Negative PCR test in order to compete, including Djokovic’s likely next event, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the end of February.

However, several other events have yet to set their protocols, even at this late stage, including the Monte Carlo Masters (standing by for French government guidelines) in April and grass-warm Wimbledon events (also awaiting government guidelines).

CDCP restrictions are likely to impact his chances of playing Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami in just a few months.

How far will the reputational bleeding go? In the meantime, one of his biggest sponsors, Lacoste, has already asked for a meeting with Novak Djokovic, in light of the deportation from Australia and concerns over his behavior prior to arriving in the country (such as freely attending events while COVID-positive in Dec.).

“As soon as possible, we will be in touch with Novak Djokovic to review the events that have accompanied his presence in Australia,” Lacoste said in an emailed statement, via the Daily Mail. Djokovic earns approximately $40M from endorsements alone, and the repercussions don’t seem to be over.

Only the world No. 1 tennis player can answer how he can compete in the grand slams, which he’s made quite clear are the priority for him at this late stage in his career. But perhaps more importantly, how can he possibly repair the damage done to his image, which may take a lot longer than his insatiable need for more tennis glory? Tackling that hurdle may prove the most challenging of all.