The only thing Novak Djokovic has more of in Melbourne than controversy is titles. The 35-year-old has won the Australian Open a whopping nine times, but in recent years his trips Down Under haven’t been all about tennis.
In fact, last season there was no tennis involved. Djokovic, who was and still is unvaccinated, arrived in Australia thinking he would be able to play the Aussie Open. Following a wild week of detention and legal battles, the Serb’s visa was revoked and he was deported out of the country on the eve of the tournament.
Now allowed to play thanks to a change in Victorian government’s policies, this year’s controversy is on a much, much smaller scale. There is still noise, though, as Djokovic is apparently dealing with a leg injury but the validity of it is in question. Invoking memories of a 2010s Andy Murray, Djokovic in the first few rounds consistently looked like a wounded animal during changeovers and in between sets but would run like a gazelle during points.
There was no sign of any injury in the fourth round on Tuesday night against Alex de Minaur, who had been critical of Djokovic’s 2022 Australian saga. After getting clobbered by the 21-time Grand Slam winner, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2, De Minaur commented on his opponent’s physical state.
“I think everyone’s kind of seeing what’s been happening over the couple weeks,” the Aussie said. “It’s the only thing everyone’s been talking about. I was out there on court against him. Either I’m not a good enough tennis player to expose that, or it looked good to me.”
De Minaur certainly isn’t alone as a skeptic, but Djokovic doesn’t mind.
“I leave the doubting to those people; let them doubt,” the world No. 5 quipped. “Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting…. I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
“I have got the MRI, ultrasound and everything else, both from [an injury in 2021 that still didn’t stop him from lifting the trophy] and now. Whether I will publish that in my documentary or on the social media depends on how I feel. Maybe I will do I it; maybe I won’t. I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying.
“It is fun; it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues–narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”
As De Minaur found out the hard way, it may not be wise to make Djokovic mad.
In 2022 the current world No. 24 referred to the visa drama as a “circus” and that Djokovic had “taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors.”
De Minaur added, “Look, Australians have gone through a lot. There’s no secret about that. They’ve had it very tough. They’ve done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders. When you’re coming in, as well as every other tennis player, if you wanted to come to the country, you had to be double vaccinated. It was up to him, his choices, his judgement. Here we are.”
“I respect him as a rival, a colleague, as I respect everyone,” Djokovic said following Tuesday’s result. “I have no problem contacting him, congratulating him, etc. But I don’t have any other relationship (with him); I don’t have any communication with him. He showed in 2022 what he thinks about me.”
Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.