In the wake of a remarkable run to the top of Wimbledon’s men’s singles draw, Novak Djokovic was subdued at best. Forget that he ruled the All England Club for the fourth straight year. Never mind that he thereby managed to move past living legend Roger Federer with his 21st Grand Slam title. Even as he appreciated the feat, he understood that it represented a blip in the grand scheme of things. The start of the year saw him miss out on the Australian Open, the other major championship in which he could be considered an overwhelming favorite. The end of the year could find him in the sidelines as well, unable to travel to America for a stab at his fourth United States Open crown. And while the situation puts a major crimp on his plan to finish his career with the highest number of trophies of all time from the sport’s four holy grails, he’s at peace with the development.
As far as Djokovic is concerned, it’s a matter of principle. He got in trouble with immigration authorities in Australia due to his failure — or, to be more accurate, refusal — to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. And because inoculation is a requirement to get a visa to the US, he’s slated to be on the outside looking in, literally and figuratively, for the last Grand Slam event of 2022. He knows that the pandemic shows no signs of abating, so the prerequisite for competition doesn’t seem headed to the scrap heap anytime soon. And that’s all right for him.
Perhaps Djokovic believes that the mark will ultimately be his, anyway. As the youngest, and fittest, of the Big Three that also includes provisional leader Rafael Nadal, he does seem to be in the best position to end up with the most crowded mantel. That said, “seem” is the operative word, since he’s doing himself no favors in slashing his chances by half from the outset. And here’s the thing: No matter how he spins his beliefs, they go against science, not to mention the need to protect the population at large. In other words, his cause is far from worthy or worthwhile, and yet he has seen fit to plant his flag on it, head held high.
It’s a wonder, really, because Djokovic cares about public opinion. In fact, he has been trying hard — make that very, very hard — to be on the good graces of fans who can’t, or don’t, think of him as fitting of adulation, his otherworldly successes on the court notwithstanding. In this particular case, though, it isn’t that he’s not trying hard enough. It’s that he’s not trying, period. Which, in the final analysis, puts him right where he wants to be, and exactly where he deserves to be — in the crosshairs of critics who feel just as strongly that the tennis alone won’t be enough.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.