Column: Djokovic whiffed on 2 shots, 3 if you count booster

Jan 13, 2022, 11:03 PM | Updated: Jan 14, 2022, 1:04 pm
Defending men's champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices on Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Aus...

Defending men's champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices on Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. AP Photo/Mark Baker)

After more than a week of lies, hypocrisy, partisan bickering, bureaucratic bumbling and the inevitably idiotic comparison to the crucifixion of Jesus — by his own father, no less — the Novak Djokovic story still boils down to this:

He threw away a chance to make history at the Australian Open by whiffing on two shots. OK, three, if you count the booster.

If the punishment seems harsh, just wait. Djokovic’s legal team has appealed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds, but his chances of a second win in court are slim. A final ruling is expected Sunday, less than 24 hours before the tournament gets underway.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday in a statement. “This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today.”

The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. There are still three more Grand Slam events in three countries with different vaccination rules to navigate this season and who-knows-how many-more tournaments Djokovic will want to play in between. Precious few of his fellow players expressed support for his no-vax stance. A recent poll found four out of five Aussies wanted him deported. If this is how his year begins, the odds the rest of it goes smoothly are slimmer still.

Hawke’s decision came down, conveniently perhaps, after a string of embarrassing revelations about how Djokovic behaved after the Dec. 16 positive COVID-19 test that was the basis for his request for a medical exemption. The next day, he attended an event in Belgrade honoring youth tennis players; photos turned up on social media showing none of them wearing masks.

Djokovic subsequently claimed he’d taken an antigen test before the event and didn’t get the results of a more reliable PCR test until afterward. But a copy of his medical certificate showed that test was returned on Dec. 16, just seven hours after it was administered. On top of that, Djokovic conducted an interview with the French newspaper L’Equipe on Dec. 18, after knowing he’d tested positive. He conceded, after being called out, “On reflection, this was an error in judgment.”

It wasn’t the only one. Djokovic flaunted his “exemption” in an Instagram post on Jan. 4, just before boarding a flight to Melbourne. By the time he landed, the public Down Under was hopping mad, weary after months of strict lockdowns and facing another severe surge in coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant. If his timing seemed bad, it was about to get worse.

Djokovic was detained several hours for questioning at the airport, then transferred to a $109-a-night hotel with — how to put this? — a number of less-well-heeled immigration seekers. He reportedly requested his personal chef be allowed to prepare his meals. Right around then, family members and a host of cynical politicians tried their level best to make Djokovic a cause celebre, appealing to nationalist fervor and a small but vocal anti-vax minority around the globe.

“Shame on them, the entire freedom-loving world should rise together with Serbia,” Srdjan Djokovic, his sometimes-belligerent father, said from Belgrade. “They crucified Jesus, and now they are trying to crucify Novak the same way and force him on his knees.”

The ensuing debate played out on social media around the globe, largely along well-entrenched political fault lines. Predictably, all that heat shed very little light on the topics — medicine, alternative medicine, science, immigration, justice and egalitarianism — that have been flashpoints since the start of the pandemic.

For those who didn’t weigh in or follow along, rest assured you didn’t miss much. The number of people actually qualified to make pronouncements on those topics wouldn’t fill half of the 10,000 or so seats at Melbourne Park, which, coincidentally, is the number of vaccinated fans that will be allowed to watch the matches each day.

Had he been vaccinated, Djokovic would have been the heavy favorite to win a fourth straight Open, 10th overall and his 21st Grand Slam title, which would have vaulted him past both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in their decade-long race for pride of place in the men’s game.

Instead, he’ll likely be tossed out of the country empty-handed before the first ball is hit, still a hero to some but a selfish, short-sighted embodiment of privilege to many. The long-term damage to his reputation remains to be seen, but he’ll have a hard time shedding the assessment shared by two TV news anchors on Seven Network in Australia, apparently unaware they were on a hot mic.

“He fell,” said one, “over his own (expletive) lies.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Canada's Nirra Fields, left, runs past Puerto Rico's Trinity San Antonio during their quarterfinal ...
Associated Press

Canada into women’s World Cup semis for 1st time since 1986

SYDNEY (AP) — No one on Canada’s roster was alive the last team the team won a medal at the women’s World Cup. Now the Canadians are a win away from winning one for the first time since 1986, when they captured the bronze. Kia Nurse scored 17 points to lead a balanced Canada team […]
1 day ago
FILE - Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala handles the ball during the second half of an N...
Associated Press

Warriors-Wizards games in Japan to woo NBA fans, sponsors

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese basketball fans will get to see NBA stars up close when the reigning league-champion Golden State Warriors take on the Washington Wizards in two preseason games. Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry and Japanese-born Rui Hachimura will be the star attractions for each team. And as clearly as the logo of Japanese online […]
1 day ago
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge celebrates his 61st home run of the season, a two-run shot against th...
Associated Press

Maris Jr: Bonds, McGwire illegitimate, Judge to be HR king

TORONTO (AP) — Roger Maris Jr. considers the home run feats of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to be illegitimate and says Aaron Judge should be recognized as the holder of the big league season standard if the New York Yankees slugger hits No. 62. “He should be revered for being the actual […]
1 day ago
San Diego Padres' Manny Machado, right, jokes with Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux (9)...
Associated Press

Freeman has RBI single in 10th, gives Dodgers 107th win

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Freddie Freeman helped the Atlanta Braves win the World Series last year and on Wednesday night he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers set the franchise season record with their 107th victory. Freeman singled in Mookie Betts with one out in the 10th inning and the Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres […]
1 day ago
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge hugs his mother, Patty Judge, after the team's baseball game against ...
Associated Press

Fans miss 61 HR ball, Jays bullpen coach gets it to Judge

TORONTO (AP) — When Aaron Judge’s American League record-tying 61st home run dropped into Toronto’s bullpen, coach Matt Buschmann picked it up. “Bad news is I’m down here in Florida battling a hurricane, but the good news is I can announce my retirement,” tweeted Buschmann’s wife, Sara Walsh, a Fox Sports reporter and former ESPN […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during t...
Associated Press

Trout hits 38th homer, Lorenzen sharp as Angels beat A’s 4-1

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Mike Trout hit his 38th home run, Michael Lorenzen went five strong innings and the Los Angeles Angels continued their success against the Oakland Athletics with a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night. Taylor Ward also homered, while Lorenzen (8-6) gave up an unearned run to lower his ERA to 0.45 against […]
1 day ago
Column: Djokovic whiffed on 2 shots, 3 if you count booster