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We’ve all met that guy.
The one who really wants to be liked. The one who wants to be the popular, the cool, the one. But for every good thing that happens, there are bigger missteps ruining the popularity campaign. In the end, the mob turns on him, or just gets tired of the constant drama flowing from the need to be worshiped.
Yeah, I am talking about Novak Djokovic.
Helluva tennis player, one of the best of all time, charitable human who has donated millions to hospitals and children’s charities in Serbia. But also the person who has insatiably craved public attention and love since the early days of his career. Remember his imitations of other players? Yeah, haha. Please look at me! That really didn’t go over that well in the locker room - on either side. There are the on-court outbursts (not rehashing, but Google will refresh the multiple fits if you need to see it). The whining. The dramatic gestures like his ever-more dramatic bowing and four-ends court kisses to the crowd after matches. Even in empty stadiums.
And of course, the alt-med, conspiracy theory, new agey bullshit he has spread as a guru on social media over the past few years. Drink his water, eat his diet, harmonize on his cosmic wavelength, and you too will achieve nirvana at your estate in Monaco.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer floated on their global clouds of pure love. Fans still faint for Fed, even in his diminished state of the last few years. Rafa’s smile melts the prim and proper crowds at Roland Garros and gets them rowdy elsewhere. They have the trophies. The millions in the bank. They’ve battled Djoker hard too. They’ve donated tons and done charity work in their home countries and around the world. But their auras always show a sparkle and sheen that Djoker’s has failed to yet reach.
And. He. Knows.
He could end up with the most Grand Slams of any male singles player, and people will still put Rafa and Roger ahead of him…because they like the men and the tennis.
Ouch. Hard to reconcile that people may not like you. The real you, not holding the racquet.
So maybe, just maybe, given how off the rails everything has been during COVID, Djoker decided to go all in and turn wrestling heel. He wasn’t going to get vaccinated, and the system between Tennis Australia, the country’s immigration rules, the Prime Minister’s office, and the need to get the No. 1 player in the world in the first Grand Slam of 2022… all equaled a chaotic opportunity to push it until it all broke.
He appealed his visa denial and won. And now, he’s lost again, as Alex Hawke, the minister of Australian immigration canceled his visa Friday on the grounds of “health and good order” and also in the name of public interest. Which means, he will go back into custody (this time at his own accommodations - for now) in Melbourne, awaiting extradition.
UNLESS, he chooses to appeal this decision, and heads back to court Saturday (Australian 10:15 am Saturday, which is 6:15 pm Friday Eastern U.S. time.) His attorneys said they plan to appeal.
I’ve cruised around several Aussie sources, and it seems Djoker’s legal goose may be cooked, thanks to him. The first appeal was won on technicalities, but the case was never closed. The Immigration Office was allowed to continue investigating Djoker, asking for supporting evidence on the dates/sequence he claimed.
The case for Djoker staying fell apart over the week, when social media posts (many from his camp) and media reporting showed the following: his squishy COVID testing (labs fault!), showing up as COVID positive - and then unmasked and un-socially distanced - to a children’s hospital, rolling at a basketball game (unmasked), checking the wrong box on his visa app to say he was vaccinated (staff’s fault), and doing a media interview without disclosing he was COVID positive (didn’t want to let L’Equipe down!).
Djokovic, feeling the heat of his story falling apart, put out this ill-advised social media post on several sites, the equivalent of a “not it”, blaming the world for “miscommunication”. Nothing was miscommunicated. He just didn’t want us to know about it. Big difference.
Now, the Australian Open is likely left without a No. 1 seed (whatever), and will have to either patch the draw with a lucky loser or No. 5 Andrey Rublev moving up (that’s the rules to fix a busted draw).
OR, Djokovic wins another appeal and stays. Then the real mess begins on Monday.
The Aussie is the happy Open. But this one will not be fun. Public opinion polls and the Australian media are harsh, the boos will be real at the Australian Open, and the open post-match sessions with the global press will be unsparing. Can’t wait for him to take a spin on the ESPN, Tennis Channel, and EuroSport sets for a chat. The former players who are now chat heads will not be Team Djoker. (ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe has been flame-roasting Djoker on the daily over on CNN. Martina Navratilova has been getting him on Twitter.) According to PMac, the players are also turning on Djoker, as 97 percent of the men are vaccinated and compliant with Australia’s strict rules. Stefanos Tsitsipas blasted Djoker for being selfish. They’re tired of the drama, especially since they get dragged into it by being asked by reporters on what they think of Djoker. They honestly do not want to think of Djoker at all - they just want to play their matches and talk about their own play and lives.
The guy who wants to be respected and loved is going to get the opposite - the caustic scorn from people judging him for his character and not only for his forehand.
One of my favorite Aussie terms is “tall poppy syndrome”, meaning, successful people stand out, and then get cut down by the masses because of jealousy. Djoker may claim that, to cement his victimhood in this mess.
But if he is really being honest, the only thing cut down was the remaining shards of respect for him.
Buckle up Djoker, the ride is starting. Either here in Australia, or for what lies ahead for the rest of the tennis season - where the same rules about being fully vaccinated are required in most countries.
Djokovic could end all the drama and get back to what he wants to do this year - play tennis - by getting vaccinated. Or he can have his way, and stay home, and not play.
His choice. You don’t get to choose both.
I am still very much looking forward to the Australian Open. As somebody who hates winter and lives in Michigan - I KNOW, it’s supposed to be cold here, so quitcha whining - seeing people playing tennis in 90 degree heat warms my toes.
The fields are loaded. Here’s a quickie of what to watch for:
Serena Williams and Venus Williams are sitting this one out, but everybody else has RSVP’d for the party. No. 1 Ash Barty will be the crowd fave, given her status as one of the biggest stars in her native Australia. But history shows that the pressure on Aussie players to win on home soil usually cracks them. Check with Pat Rafter, Pat Cash, Mark Philippoussis, and Lleyton Hewitt on that vise. Cash and Hewitt made the final, but lost.
Barty, who has two Grand Slams, is playing well in the hardcourt tune ups for the Aussie. But her path to the title will be a slog. The draw shows the tricky Camila Giorgi in round 3, Naomi Osaka in round 4, Maria Sakkari in the quarters, Barbora Krecikova (4) in the semis.
Two-time champ Osaka is indeed back, looking good, and is the most decorated female player in the field with three Grand Slams. So it’s pretty wide open. Keep an eye out for what Ons Jabeur (9), Sakkari (5), Coco Gauff (18), Iga Swiatek (7) are up to.
And a small wave of good luck to fellow Bulletin.com contributor Sloane Stephens, who A) just got married, and is B) playing the Aussie.
Yeah, that Djokovic guy is No. 1, and that Nadal guy is…in his half of the draw. The two would not meet until the semis, but whoo boy, let’s go 4 ½ hours and tears once again. But maybe we are erasing Djoker out of the draw very soon. Who knows. But Rafa is ready to go, and that’s that.
Look for the big boy show, with some usual suspects: Matteo Berrettini (7), Sascha Zverev (3), Tsitsipas (4), Daniil Medvedev (2). They could all end up in the quarters, with some twists.
No. 8 Casper Ruud, of Norway, is making some noise with his speed and power. His dad, Christian Ruud, was pretty good too. And oh, Casper trained at…the Rafael Nadal Academy. He may be the upset maker. Others to watch, just because: SIR Andy Murray, gotta root for his effort. He’s like the bionic man, still grinding. Nick Kyrios, well, Nick’s gonna Nick, especially in Australia. Brit Cam Norrie (12) is fun to watch. Always root for the smol players, like Diego Schwartzman and David Goffin, just because. Small people tennis - we stan.
Last tip. Be a good tennis human, watch the doubles. It’s brain food if you love tennis.
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See you Tuesday.