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World | Jan 14, 2022

A lesson from tennis champ Novak Djokovic—First, break all the rules

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

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Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.

The Australian Government has decided to revoke grand slam tennis champion Novak Djokovic’s visa to enter the country for the second time now, which may make it difficult for him to defend his title down under.

Only last week a judge decided that he should not be denied entry into the country, so allowing him to compete in the Australian Open.

Djokovic has decided not to get vaccinated and his decision to play the tournament has been mired in controversy.

In fact, it is an almighty mess for tennis, the Australian government and Djokovic.

Australia is one of the few countries to vehemently insist that its population get vaccinated and has one of the highest inoculation rates in the world. Australians have gone into prolonged lockdowns and its borders have in effect been hermetically sealed.

It has made it very clear to both its citizens and visitors that protocols will have to be applied and met.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic rally outside the Park Hotel, where the star athlete was believed to be held while in Australia.(Photo: REUTERS/Loren Elliott)

Djokovic decided that the rules do not apply to him and that he must be given the opportunity to win his 21st grand slam title at all cost.

All the participants in the tournament have been vaccinated, so why does Djokovic believe that he doesn’t have to be? What makes him the exception?

It now transpires that he had COVID and has breached a number of rules over the last few weeks before he even arrived in Australia.

Djokovic is a great champion and is one of the best this world has seen but that accomplishment does not exonerate him from stipulations put in place to protect everyone.

Djokovic

By proceeding on his current course, he is sticking two fingers up at his fellow professionals and all Australians.

How did it come to this?

The fourth ranked world men’s player, Stefano Tsitsipas, summed up the Djokovic situation very well and it is a point that should be paid attention to.

Tsitsipas said: “For sure he’s been playing by his own rules and has been doing what not  many players had the guts to do, especially after the ATP announced certain criteria for players to enter the country.

“No one really thought they could come to Australia unvaccinated and not having to follow the protocols… it takes a lot of daring to do and putting the grand slam at risk, which I don’t think many players would do.”

Come the end of this month, if Djokovic is not deported and is allowed to remain and play and win the title, he will be the subject of much resentment and would have made a mockery of the country.

He will no doubt beat his chest and raise the trophy above his head, but the howls of derision will reverberate around not only the stadium in Melbourne but across the entire world.

He will be a champion declaring, “rules don’t apply because I’m the special one”.

This dogmatic, obstinate approach has carried Djokovic very far, bringing him success and acclaim, but he is overreaching here and this infamy may very well sour his legacy.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic shakes hands with Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

We are in a golden age of tennis with three phenomenal talents namely Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic vying to get to 21 grand slam titles.

Both Federer and Nadal are better loved and viewed more favourably than Djokovic.

They conduct themselves with class, dignity and show respect and, in turn, earn respect. It’s not just about their accomplishments, it’s also their characters that distinguishes them. They win, but with grace, abiding by fair play never embroiled in controversies.

In the pantheon of greats, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Raphael Nadal, Steffi Graff, Chris Evert were the epitome of elegance, decorum, decency and propriety leading them to be revered throughout the ages.

This will not be the case with Djokovic if he continues on the road he is on. Yes, he may win the title, but at what cost?

Members of the media waiting for a sighting of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic surround a departing transport vehicle exiting the Park Hotel, where the athlete had been held during a legal challenge over his visa, in Melbourne, Australia, January 10, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

He would be advised to get on a plane before he is deported, go home, consider his situation, and prepare for the next grand slam having made sure he doesn’t find himself again in this embarrassing  predicament.

He has to ask himself the question: Do I really want to make the ATP look like fools?

By continuing to go to court, challenging the Australian Government, having his parents go on television and say their son is being victimised, brazenly flouting the rules, he is carrying his own coffin.

As one of the world’s leading sports personalities, what example is he setting? Is this how he wants to be remembered?

So far, he has ridden his luck and wants to do so all the way. He has battled back from adversity many times on court and emerged triumphant, but he may not do so this time in the court of public opinion.

He has made it patently clear that he doesn’t care about that. He just wants to win – to hell with COVID restrictions.

Twenty-one is a landmark, signifying adulthood.

Time to show it Novak and play within the lines.

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