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The Reshaping of an Era

While Djokovic will still compete for the biggest titles, Medvedev and Zverev proved at the ATP Finals that they are coming for the title of World No.1

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Alexander Zverev at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals (Twitter - @atptour)

For as long as I can remember, those of us who inhabit the world of tennis as journalists and surveyors of the scene have referred to the hierarchy of men’s tennis as “The Big Three”. The oldest member of that iconic trio is, of course, 40-year-old Roger Federer. He was joined by 35-year-old Rafael Nadal and 34-year-old Novak Djokovic. These luminous figures have carried the game forward regally and collectively for the better part of two decades, claiming a record 20 men’s major titles apiece, scaling the heights of the sport time and time again, leaving all of their peers dumbfounded and deflated by virtue of their enduring excellence— not to mention their unbending pride and professionalism. It has been an era unlike any other in the history of tennis as these superstars have enthralled fans in every corner of the globe with their talent, tenaciousness and temerity.

 

But as the curtain closes on 2021 and the Nitto ATP Finals have just concluded in Turin, it is becoming increasingly likely that the sport is currently moving into a fascinating new era. In many ways, it appears as if the men’s game is being reshaped. Federer may not return to competitive play until the summer of 2022. By then he will be closing in on his 41st birthday, and the feeling grows that he will not be around much longer in the upper echelons as a player. He might even decide to retire by the end of this coming season. Nadal is hoping he can resume his winning ways swiftly when he returns to Melbourne for the Australian Open, and surely wants to round into his finest clay court form across the spring before heading to Paris for a serious bid at a 14th French Open crown.

And yet, only time will tell if Nadal’s foot woes— which plagued him in 2021 and cut his season short—will linger in 2022. The depth of his determination knows no bounds, but the fact remains that his task of reclaiming a place at or near the top of the game will be daunting. Perhaps Nadal will reinvent himself once more and redefine his greatness in the process, but there are no guarantees. The first six months of 2022 will be critical for the redoubtable Spaniard and he will have the chance to make himself a central figure again, but if his foot remains problematic Nadal might be heading toward the closing stages of his illustrious career. Despite an abbreviated 2021 campaign of only seven tournaments and 29 matches (24-5), the dynamic Spaniard finished his record 17th consecutive year among the top ten in the world at No. 6.

Djokovic, of course, is coming off one of his most exhilarating campaigns. In 2021, he moved within one match of winning the Grand Slam, sweeping three majors in a row to tie Federer and Nadal at 20 in total, finishing his seventh season at No. 1 in the world to break Pete Sampras’s record of residing at the top for six years (1993-98). Djokovic claimed two other titles during his spectacular 2021 campaign including a recent triumph at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris. Although the Serbian was beaten in a pulsating semifinal at the ATP Finals by Sascha Zverev— and thus was unable to take a sixth title at the season-ending tournament—the fact remains that he celebrated one of the three greatest years (alongside 2011 and 2015) of his astonishing career, and he still stands deservedly alone at the top of is craft.

I believe that there may well be a new “Big Three” in the game over the next couple of years with Djokovic clearly very much in the mix, but joined by the two men who collided in the final of the  Nitto ATP Finals at Turin. Zverev won that prestigious title for the second time by upending defending champion and US Open victor Daniil Medvedev in the title round contest. In my view, Djokovic will find himself in frequent combat over the next couple of years against both the German and the Russian on the premier stages in the sport.

To be sure, Medvedev has not yet demonstrated an affinity to play the same brand of lofty tennis he has exhibited on hardcourts when he shifts to clay and grass courts. He reached his first quarterfinal at Roland Garros this year after four first round defeats on the Paris clay in the preceding years, and has yet to advance that far on the lawns of Wimbledon. At the All England Club, he has never made it to the quarterfinals, although he was one set away this year from going that far before losing to Hubert Hurkacz.

The fact remains that Medvedev did win a pre-Wimbledon ATP Tour event this year in Mallorca, Spain on grass, and he was a semifinalist at the ATP Masters 1000 clay court tournament in Monte Carlo two years ago. That is a modest accomplishment, but still an indication of what he can do on his least favorite surface. I have no doubt that Medvedev will make major inroads on the other surfaces in the next few years, even if his preference will still be competing on hard courts.

As for Zverev, he has displayed his versatility and virtuosity for quite some time. As long ago as 2017, this gifted individual won Masters 1000 crowns on both clay and hard courts in Rome and Canada. He took a second Masters 1000 clay court crown in 2018 at Madrid. And this year he was victorious in two more Masters 1000 events, succeeding on clay again in Madrid and on hardcourts in Cincinnati. Like Medvedev, Zverev has struggled inordinately on grass at Wimbledon and has yet to make it past the fourth round. But the feeling grows that he will adapt in due course to the lower bounces and turn himself into a formidable grass court player.

It is simply no accident that Medvedev and Zverev have established themselves as the second and third best players in the world. That is a status they have irrefutably earned. No one won more titles on the ATP Tour this year than Zverev, who finished his best season yet with six. Moreover, he collected the gold medal at the Olympic Games, although no ATP points were available at that prestigious event. Zverev closed the 2021 season by capturing four of his last seven tournaments in a hardcourt blaze.

Daniil Medvedev at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals (Credit: @atptour on Twitter)

Medvedev was only marginally better than Zverev in 2021, securing his first Major by upsetting Djokovic in New York, losing to Djokovic at the Australian Open and Paris Masters 1000 finals, and winning the Canada Masters 1000 title in Toronto. He won four titles in addition to reaching two major finals and coming though for the first time on one of the premier stages.

Beyond what they did on their own, both Zverev and Medvedev pushed Djokovic to the hilt in riveting rivalries. Zverev and Djokovic clashed on five occasions in 2021 with the Serbian prevailing 3-2 in the series, although Zverev won two of their last three clashes. Medvedev was 1-2 against Djokovic. Djokovic now holds a 6-4 career lead against Medvedev and he is 7-4 versus Zverev.

But what makes it all so compelling is that Medvedev and Zverev both improved significantly over the course of the 2021 season and their standards are so high that they will keep forcing the ever open-minded and singularly flexible Djokovic to raise his game. I believe Djokovic is up to that considerable task and will at least hold his own with his two toughest younger rivals in 2022 and 2023, but Zverev is only 24 and Medvedev 25. They are just approaching their primes. Djokovic is stretching his prime as long and as far as he possibly can.

I can envision some classic confrontations among this accomplished trio in the coming years. Djokovic will be preoccupied with moving permanently past Federer and Nadal into sole possession for the most majors ever taken by a man, but achieving that mission will be determined to an extent by how he fares against Medvedev and Zverev. They will be his chief adversaries.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between Zverev and Medvedev will be fascinating to follow as well. The Russian warrior had toppled the German competitor five times in a row leading up to the final in Turin, including a narrow triumph during the round robin portion of the ATP Finals.

Let’s look at that contest first. Medvedev broke Zverev once in the course of winning the first set but neither man garnered a break the rest of the way. Zverev took the second set in a tie-break. On they went to settle it all in a third set tie-break, and Zverev moved out in front 4-2. On the crucial seventh point, he sent his normally trustworthy two-handed backhand down the line and into the net without being provoked. Medvedev climbed back to 4-4 and then Zverev squandered another opportunity. He lobbed over the Russian’s backhand side, forcing Medvedev to play a relatively weak high backhand volley crosscourt. Zverev was set up for a backhand down the line that would have given him the point, but drove it long. Although Zverev saved a pair of match points from 4–6 down, he was eventually ousted 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(6). In that clash, there was only the thinnest margin separating the two players. They would meet again, of course, with the stakes much higher in the final, but more on that skirmish later.

Despite the disappointment of a narrow failure against Medvedev, Zverev prevailed in his two other Red Group round robin assignments in Turin against an injured Matteo Berrettini (7-6(7) 1-0 ret.) and a wobbly Hubert Hurkacz 6-2 6-4, and that earned the 24-year-old a semifinal duel with Djokovic. The world No. 1 had played top of the line tennis in all three of his Green Group round robin matches, taking apart Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev and Cam Norrie without losing a set.

Djokovic and Zverev had pushed each other to their physical and emotional limits in all four of their previous meetings across 2021. The Serbian had triumphed 7-5 in the final set at the ATP Cup before eclipsing Zverev again in a come-from-behind four set Australian Open quarterfinal. Zverev had turned the tables on Djokovic in the semifinals of the Olympic Games at Tokyo, rallying from a set and a break down to win 1-6 6-3 6-1 before garnering the gold medal easily over Karen Khachanov.

The rivalry was renewed in New York at the US Open when Djokovic surpassed Zverev 6-2 in the fifth set of a stirring semifinal showdown. Proving that the past is indeed prologue, these two magnificent players produced another blockbuster in Turin. The level of play was nothing short of stupendous, especially over the first two sets. At the end of the first set, both men created space for crucial opportunities. It was pivotal in determining the outcome of the match because no one in the Open Era has a better record after winning the first set than the game’s finest front runner Djokovic.

Zverev was serving at 4-5 in that opening set when Djokovic went to work with quiet ferocity. He reached set point with a crackling backhand down the line that was unanswerable. Zverev met that moment commendably, unleashing a 136 MPH first serve out wide in the ad court. Djokovic’s blocked backhand return landed long. On the following point at deuce, Zverev went for broke with a dangerous 138 MPH second serve down the T, and Djokovic was unable to get it back into play. Zverev held on gamely for 5-5.

In the eleventh game, Djokovic found himself perched precariously at 15-40. He decided to serve-and-volley to the forehand and Zverev’s crosscourt return was wide. And then, at 30-40, Djokovic played a point that was so extraordinary he could only smile incredulously at what he had just done when it was over. Once more, he served-and-volleyed. Zverev’s backhand return was letter perfect, hit hard and low crosscourt. Djokovic stayed low, picked up the backhand half volley immaculately, and sent that shot sizzling down the line with improbable pace and excellent depth. On the run, Zverev had no play at all.

Djokovic took the next two points to hold on for 6-5 and then reached 0–30 in the following game. But Zverev swept four points in a row to reach a tie-break, producing a clutch backhand volley winner, putting away an overhead, releasing a superb service winner, and lacing a backhand winner down the line with cool precision.

Novak Djokovic at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals (Credit: @atptour on Twitter)

Zverev outplayed Djokovic in the tie-break 7-4, benefitting from a double fault at 2-2 by Djokovic— the first all tournament long from the Serbian. Djokovic retaliated with a service break at 4-4 in the second set, and soon sealed the set. But, to the chagrin of himself and his legion of supporters, Djokovic played one poor game at 1-2 in the third set that cost him the whole match. He was broken in that game entirely on his own mistakes, making three unforced errors off the forehand and one off the backhand. Zverev was ahead 3-1. He was apprehensive at 4-2, taking too much off his first serve and cautiously steering his groundstrokes. But Zverev fended off one break point on another forehand unforced error from Djokovic, and came through to win 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3. Across the three sets, Zverev double faulted only once.

Despite the supreme physicality of that match, Zverev seemed fresh and unruffled in the final despite his losing streak against Medvedev. Truthfully, Medvedev had not played that well heading into the final. He opened with a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 victory over Hurkacz, came within two points of defeat against Zverev and then saved two match points against alternate Jannik Sinner, who took Berrettini’s place and crushed Hurkacz in straight sets.

Understandably, Medvedev was concerned about preserving energy for his semifinal encounter when he faced Sinner in the round robin. But he took the first set comfortably before losing a tie-break in the second set. In the middle of the third set, down a break at 2-4, Medvedev was no longer interested in fighting through long and debilitating rallies. He started shortening points and hitting almost every second serve like a first delivery. Eventually, Medvedev somehow pulled out that match with his undervalued survival instincts, saving two match points in the third set tie-break, winning 6-1 6-7(5) 7-6(8).

The world No. 2 did perform more persuasively in a 6-4 6-2 semifinal dismissal of Casper Ruud, pulling off his only straight set win of the week. But in my view it was not enough to give him the unwavering confidence required to defeat Zverev in the final. In some ways, the situation reminded me of what happened a few weeks earlier at the Paris Masters 1000 event. Medvedev had made his way to the final with big point efficiency but he was not necessarily at the top of his game. He played a very good final against Djokovic, but the Serbian was clearly the better man on that important occasion. He succeeded in three sets.

This time around against Zverev, Medvedev knew full well that he had been fortunate to escape against the German in the round robin. Medvedev was also well aware that it is no simple task to beat the same player twice in a week at a tournament reserved for only the elite. In fact, prior to this title round appointment, the player who had lost in the round robin all through tournament history was triumphant when taking on the same player again in the final 10 out of 18 instances.

Zverev himself had achieved that feat once before, defeating Djokovic in a straight set final after losing to the Serbian in the round robin three years ago. Pete Sampras holds the record with three reversals of fortune in his five times as the champion at the ATP Finals. In 1994, 1996, and 1999 Sampras turned the tables on a prominent opponent to lift the trophy. He did it against Boris Becker in 1994 and 1996, and repeated that remarkable feat in 1999 against Andre Agassi.

Medvedev was fundamentally outplayed and out-served by Zverev on this occasion. Zverev was at his zenith and gave one of the greatest performances of his career. In ten service games against one of the sport’s premier practitioners on the return of serve, Zverev never even faced a break point. He won 33 of 40 points on his first serve (83%) and eight of fourteen on second serve (57%). Altogether Zverev connected with 74% of his first serves. In the round robin against Medvedev, Zverev made 79% of his first serves but his location and pinpoint precision were far superior in the final. As was the case against Djokovic in the penultimate round, Zverev served only one double fault in the final round match versus Medvedev.

So often in the past, Zverev’s confusion over how hard to hit his second serve has been a terrible hindrance, but this year in Turin he found considerably more clarity of mind and took no unnecessary risks. In the entire tournament, he produced only five double faults in his five matches. His averaged 75% on first serves for the tournament and held serve in 56 of 58 games for a 97% success rate. To be sure, the hardcourts in Turin were playing exceptionally fast and were a server’s domain. Djokovic was broken only three times in his four matches and Medvedev lost his serve only four times in five contests. But Zverev’s serve was the best of anyone in the field, and his ground game was impenetrable. He hardly missed against Djokovic and was awfully good from the backcourt against Medvedev in the final as well.

Zverev established early leads in both sets of this confrontation between two towering men who both stand at 6’6”, and the German never relinquished his authority throughout an impeccably played final on his side of the net. Incidentally, this was the first time the final was contested by two players without one of them being over 25 since David Nalbandian, 23, beat Roger Federer, 24, in 2005. Zverev is now 24 and Medvedev 25. That is a significant as a barometer for the future. Their best is yet to come. Moreover, in the FedEx Year-End ATP Rankings of 2021 just released, eight of the top ten are in their twenties; only Nadal, 35, and Djokovic, 34, are in their thirties. Eight of the top ten are 25 years of age or younger; the last time this happened was in 1995. That is not inconsequential. 

In any case, Zverev made his move in the third game of the match. After Medvedev rallied from 0-40 to 30-40, the German profited from a fortunate winner off the net cord to secure a quick service break lead. He won 20 of 25 points on serve in that dominant set, and advertised his superiority on the day by taking a 23 stroke exchange with a scintillating forehand winner down the line that gave him a 5-3 lead. In every aspect of the game—from his serve, to his baseline prowess, to his agility at the net—Zverev was the decidedly better player.

In the second set, the script was much the same. Helped by a Medvedev double fault that created a 15-30 opening, Zverev broke at 30 in the first game and never looked back. He was taken to deuce in one service name before holding for 4-2, but otherwise was untroubled. Zverev served for the match at 5-4 and from 0-15 he never lost another point, closing out the contest with a second serve ace out wide in the deuce court. The scoreline was 6-4, 6-4 for Zverev but the gap between the two combatants was considerably larger than that.

Now we can imagine a future sparkling with possibilities among the captivating trio of Djokovic, Medvedev and Zverev. This is not to say that others will not be others in the conversation. Stefanos Tsitsipas had a spectacular first half of 2021, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, opening up a two sets to love lead in the French Open final before losing to Djokovic, and winning his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo. By the end of the year he was ailing with an arm/elbow injury. Felix Auger-Aliassime made inroads this year and will improve enormously in 2022. Dominic Thiem will be back in the coming year looking for a second major title. Nadal just might surprise us all with a sweeping physical recovery.

But— the way I see it—the levers of control will largely belong to the three distinctive individuals from Serbia, Russia and Germany. They figure to be the pace setters over the next couple of years. It seems entirely possible that we are heading into a spellbinding stretch featuring a fellow in his mid-thirties who just might be the greatest tennis player of all time, and a couple of keynote performers in their mid-twenties trying to knock the Serbian off his pedestal. I am looking forward to watching it all unfold.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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WTA Suspends All Tournaments In China With Immediate Effect

In a statement WTA CEO Steve Simon says the decision has been made following concerns raised about the welfare of Peng Shuai.

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The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all of their tournaments in both China and Hong Kong due to what they described as a failure by the Chinese government to address serious claims of sexual harassment made by Peng Shuai against a former senior official.

 

Shuai, who is a two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 in doubles, published a post on her Weibo account on November 2nd accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into having sex with him. She also said the two have a one-and-off affair over a 10-year period. The post was deleted less than an hour after publication and her Weibo account is still under restriction. Shuai has not spoken in public since that post but has conducted a private video call with the IOC and two other members. One of which has links to the Chinese government. Meanwhile, state media outlets have previously published videos and photos of the tennis star claiming that she is well.

However, the WTA has repeatedly voiced concerns that Shuai is being censored by authorities due to the allegations she made against a former government official. CEO Steve Simon told reporters that he has repeatedly tried to contact Shuai but failed to get through. He has received two emails from Shuai, which was leaked online, purporting to be from her. However, the organisation believes Shuai wrote them under the influence of others.

“Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” Simon said in a statement.
“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”

Now in a dramatic turn of events, Simon has suspended all WTA events taking place in China next year after receiving backing from the board of directors. A sensational development given the country has generated millions of pounds in revenue for the Tour in recent years and has been a key area for their development as a business. In 2022 China was set to host 10 events which include the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals. A tournament which has the biggest prize money pool for women outside of the four Grand Slams. However, no tournament was held in the country in 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” Simon stated. “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

The WTA has said that they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their players regardless of the financial ramifications which may occur.

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Former World No.4 Johanna Konta Retires From Tennis

The multiple Grand Slam semi-finalist says she has run out of steam as she starts a new chapter in her life.

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Johanna Konta (@the_LTA on Twitter)

Johanna Konta has announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 30 in a statement published on her social media accounts on Wednesday morning.

 

Konta, who reached the semi-finals at three different Grand Slam tournaments, said her ‘playing career had come to an end’ in a statement which was titled ‘Grateful.’ A word she said she used the most during her professional career. The revelation comes after recent speculation about the British player’s future in the sport with some saying she will not be playing at the Australian Open. Konta hadn’t played a match on the WTA Tour since August due to a knee injury. An issue which has been bothering her in recent years.

“Grateful: This is the word that I’ve probably used the most during my career, and is the word that I feel explains it best at the end,” Konta wrote.
“My playing career has come to an end, and I am so incredibly grateful for the career that it turned out to be. All the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession. However my luck materialised in the people that came into my life and impacted my existence in ways that transcended tennis. I am so incredibly grateful for these people. You know who you are.
“Through my own resilience and through the guidance of others, I got to live my dreams. I got to become what I wanted and said as a child. How incredibly fortunate I count myself to be. How grateful I am.”

Born in Sydney, Australia to Hungarian parents, Konta played for Great Britain since 2012 when she officially became a British citizen. She first moved to the country at the age of 14. During her professional career, Konta was the poster girl for British tennis after achieving a series of accolades. In October 2016 she became the first female player from her country to break into the world’s top 10 in over 30 years. A year later at Wimbledon she became the first British woman to reach the last four since Virginia Wade back in 1977.

“On behalf of the LTA and everyone involved in British Tennis I want to express my appreciation to Johanna for her hugely impressive career,” LTA CEO Scott Lloyd said in a statement. “To reach the semifinals of three slams and spend more time as British number one than any other woman since the WTA rankings began, shows the level of her achievements. We wish her well in the future, and hope that she will continue to play a role in British tennis in the years to come.”

On the WTA Tour Konta finished four seasons ranked in the world’s top 20 and achieved a ranking high of fourth in July 2017. She won a total of four titles with the most recent occurring at the Nottingham Open earlier this year. She also won two titles in 2017 (Sydney and Miami), as well as one in 2016 at Stanford. Konta was also a runner-up on five other occasions at the 2016 China Open, twice at the Nottingham Open, 2018 Italian Open and 2018 Rabat International.

A former Olympian, Konta recorded more than 20 wins over top 10 players throughout her career. Some of the players she beat include Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova.

The physical demands of playing tennis at the highest level took their toll on Konta in recent years. In June she admitted that her knee problem may be a long-term issue she would have to deal with after not paying attention to the issue earlier on. She also dealt with other issues such as a thigh injury forcing her to miss the US Open in September.

“For me, it’s just about putting my emotional, mental, physical well-being in the position to put that energy and work in to be able to do that. It’s that link of being able to convince yourself to be in pain. I just ran out of steam for it,” Konta told WTA Insider.
“So when you get to that point, you can’t put your best self on display because you haven’t put in the work for it and you just don’t have the energy to put in the work for it.”

Konta, who made her pro debut in 2006, held the British No.1 spot for 5 years and 11 months consecutively which is the longest ever run since the WTA rankings was created back in 1975.

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Sports Minister Rejects Accusation Of ‘Blackmail’ Against Novak Djokovic

Martin Pakula said all players have a responsibility whilst in his country.

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INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 27: Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals 2021 at OlimpiaWorld on November 27, 2021 in Innsbruck, Austria. (Photo by Pedro Salado / Quality Sport Images / Kosmos Tennis)

A senior member of the Victorian government has dismissed an allegation by the father of world No.1 Novak Djokovic that Australian Open organisers are blackmailing him.

 

Srdjan Djokovic said on Sunday morning that it is ‘likely’ his son wouldn’t be playing in the upcoming Grand Slam tournament due to their participation policy. All players taking part in the 2022 tournament are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in line with a health mandate that has been implemented in Victoria, the region where the event is held. Under current guidelines, players will also be tested before and upon arrival in the country.

Under these blackmails and conditions, he probably won’t play,’ Srdjan told TV Prava. ‘I wouldn’t do that, and he’s my son, so you figure out for yourself if he is going to play or not.’

Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open a record nine times, has continuously refused to publicly disclose if he is vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. Arguing that he would like to keep his medical records private. However, it has fuelled speculation that he isn’t vaccinated and therefore is unable to play in Australia. When asked about his plans for the start of 2022 at the ATP Finals in Turin, he replied ‘we’ll see’ without elaborating any further.

Martin Pakula is the sports minister for Victoria. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, he denied that authorities are ‘blackmailing’ the 20-time Grand Slam champion in any way. Arguing it is the responsibility of all players to follow the same rules of those living in the state.

“If you’re a visiting international tennis player or a visiting sportsman of any kind, it’s about your responsibility to the community that you are being welcomed into,” ABC Australia quoted Pakula as saying.
“And that’s why we are asking those international tennis stars to follow the same requirements as Victorians are.
“It’s not about blackmail, it’s about making sure the Victorian community is protected.
“I want to make it clear that I really hope that Novak Djokovic gets vaccinated and plays in the Australian Open, but if he chooses not to that’s a matter for him.”

Should Djokovic not play in Australia he will miss out on the chance of breaking the all-time record for most Grand Slam titles won by a male player. He is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at 20 each. Furthermore, it is possible that should he not play Daniil Medvedev might claim the No.1 ranking but the Russian would need to practically win every match he plays. Although this depends on what and how many tournaments he plays in.

The Australian Open is set to get underway on January 17th. Djokovic has never missed the event since his debut back in 2005.

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