Were Dubai Duty Free Championships officials wrong to offer Novak Djokovic COVID-19 Vaccine reprieve? - UBITENNIS
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Were Dubai Duty Free Championships officials wrong to offer Novak Djokovic COVID-19 Vaccine reprieve?

Novak Djokovic’s return to the tour still leaves unanswered questions.




Novak Djokovic (@thenet_m - Twitter)

After last month’s Australian Open debacle, the world number one landed in Dubai this week and returns to the court next week for the first time this season.


But let’s remind ourselves how Novak Djokovic has become the poster boy against COVID-19 vaccination and the consequences this serves.

At the very beginning of the pandemic back in June 2020, Djokovic spoke publicly of being against being vaccinated.

This was before a vaccine had even been developed.

In the same time period, the Serb hosted a tennis tournament, the Adria Tour, in Belgrade and Zadar.

After videos circulated of the 20-time Grand Slam champion clubbing topless in the Croatian city, he and fellow player and friend Viktor Troicki tested positive for COVID-19.

Troicki’s pregnant wife, Aleksandra, also contracted the virus before Djokovic and wife Jelena reported testing positive on the 23rd June.

With an increased risk of losing her baby from the chaos and ill-judged decision making, Djokovic issued a grovelling apology after many within the group contracted COVID.


Fast forward to the autumn of 2021, Djokovic was pressed on whether he would participate at the Australian Open due to the country’s strict vaccination requirements, to which he said ‘we will see.’

Government figures at the time such as Alex Hawke said back in October that Djokovic would not be above the rules.

In December, little was known of Djokovic’s participation or of his off-season activity.

Then in January, a filibuster of shots fired from the Serb’s corner, and the Australian government, and, border control, saw an all-out confrontation as to his right to enter into the country.

Djokovic posted a now infamous image on Instagram, that he would be travelling to Australia after receiving a quote “COVID-19 medical exemption.”

In the post there was no elaboration as to why he received such exemption, and the most important information was left as a mere side note at the end of the post.

This was also the first time that he had publicly admitted to not taking the vaccine, after trying to keep it a mystery.

On the 5th January, he was then intercepted at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport and after eight hours of intense questioning from Australian Border Force, he was then put into quarantine in the Park Hotel, best known for housing refugees.

This led to a legal challenge from the Serb that he duly won in court and was then able to train at Rod Laver Arena.

With the eyes of the world, and condemnation on both sides of his refusal to take the vaccine, and potentially putting others at risk of catching COVID due to his unvaccinated status, the crisis continued to boil over.

Djokovic’s parents also attacked the Australian government with public outbursts that did not help the process.

Media organisations then uncovered that Djokovic had been present at charity events on the 17th and 18th December, the day after receiving a positive COVID test, thus putting children and others at risk.

He was also maskless shaking hands. All of this indicated that the Serb was not only against vaccination, but did not take the pandemic seriously.


In an embarrassing climbdown, he admitted on social media to being present at these events, whilst testing positive. In conjunction to agreeing to meet a L’Equipe journalist, whilst he should have been self-isolating.

84% of the Australian public in a poll were dead against Djokovic participating at the Australian Open. It was therefore no surprise that Minister Hawke exercised his powers to revoke the Serb’s visa for a second time. This time the Serb lost in court and was soon on a plane back to Serbia.

Ironically, it was his rival Rafa Nadal who would win the much coveted 21st Grand Slam, a possible lesson of karma, for what might have been had Djokovic decided to take the vaccine.

This week an interview with the BBC was released but Djokovic did not seem sorry for the events that occurred in Australia.

It has since been reported in mainstream media from Sky News Australia, the BBC, and others that the PCR test was faked that Djokovic used to get into the country, almost as if there was a conspiracy afoot. Something Djokovic denies.

But after all of this, the Dubai Duty Free Championships are the first tournament to welcome Djokovic with open arms and provide him with safe refuge.

Tournament director Salah Tahlak had this to say on the matter. “I think we always have to be positive. Dubai is a positive city.

“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is always positive. He says whatever happens in the history, leave it behind you and let’s go forward because if you’re standing still that’s not going to help you,” he said.

“It’s better to think of the future and be positive. I think it’s great to have him [Djokovic] back.

“I know the whole world has been against him but at the end of the day he’s number one in the world and he’s a former champion in Dubai.”


Is this a case of a PR strategy to increase revenue and profits from TV rights and international media attention with the world number one’s participation?

Or are they simply not taking COVID-19 seriously enough themselves to insist on a vaccine mandate?

Perhaps they have been too forgiving of Djokovic’s past misdemeanours and turned a blind eye to mistakes the 34-year-old should not be making, and showing little remorse for his actions.

If Djokovic wins another Dubai title, then all of the questions around why he will not take the vaccine and protect the lives of others, will all just be washed away and forgotten about.

The US government like Australia have maintained that incoming arrivals into the country must be double vaccinated.

Next month’s double header of Indian Wells in California and the Miami Masters 1000 have therefore banished Djokovic from playing due to his unvaccinated status.

The US Open is likely to maintain this stance. The French Open looks likely to follow suit, from what the French Sports Minister has said on the issue.

The only question now is will Wimbledon copy the other three Grand Slams and maintain a vaccination entry only stance.

Tim Henman recently said that the All-England Club would follow government guidelines, but we all know the government is not always correct, and has been going against scientists that have warned against premature lifting of the restrictions.

If Wimbledon breaks rank, like the Dubai Open have done, it could create a dangerous precedent in justifying Djokovic’s stubbornness to remain unvaccinated and give anti-vaxxers a big victory that they can do as they please in the face of a public health crisis.

The Serb might be back in town in Dubai, but the Djokovic drama rumbles on.


It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.




Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.


It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.


Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.


Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.


The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages




Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.


His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.


The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.


The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth




Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?


Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.


You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.


Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.


Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.


It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.


There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.


The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.


Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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