Sports, Tennis

Djokovic saga leaves Australian Open mired in uncertainty

Published : 12 Jan 2022 08:41 PM

The Australian Open is mired in controversy and confusion just days before it begins, with Novak Djokovic's title defence in grave doubt and questions about his fitness even if he is allowed to play.

The world number one's decision not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 blew up when he was detained trying to enter Australia on a medical exemption last week.

The vaccine-sceptic Serbian won a court battle to remain and has been training at Melbourne Park, but he still might not play in the tournament with Australia's immigration minister mulling whether to quash his visa.

Djokovic, who is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title, was named the top men's seed on Tuesday, even as his status remains unclear. The draw is due to be made on Thursday.

His former coach, Boris Becker, said that the 34-year-old was "shell-shocked" by having to spend five days in immigration detention -- far from ideal build-up for the first Grand Slam of the year.

"Obviously his preparation is beyond bad. I don't think he's ever been in a worse position entering the week before a Grand Slam, but that's just the way it is," Becker told the BBC after speaking to the Serbian star on Monday.

If he does play, Djokovic is sure to face hostility from crowds upset that he is able to compete unvaccinated in a city that went through one of the longest series of lockdowns anywhere in the world.

"The crowd will be difficult with him but with each match he starts, he will win the crowd and they will embrace him again," Becker said.

Speaking this week, as his fate hung in the balance, Djokovic said: "I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world."

Known as the 'Happy Slam' because of its bumper crowds, good weather and party atmosphere, it is the second year in a row that the Open has started under a cloud, after it was hit in 2021 by coronavirus.

Back then, top stars including Djokovic were forced to spend two weeks in their hotel rooms as part of Australia's mandatory quarantine requirements, with many angry about it. A resilient Djokovic emerged to win a record-extending ninth Australian Open title, while Naomi Osaka clinched the women's crown.