Detained and then isolated at Melbourne Airport on arrival from the Middle East, Novak Djokovic has had time to contemplate and reflect during his high-profile predicament.
The Serbian has had his visa cancelled for failing to provide appropriate evidence to meet entry requirements and is facing deportation. He had been given a vaccine exemption to play the Australian Open.
The fall-out from the decision has led to a diplomatic row, and Djokovic is awaiting a final verdict after launching an appeal. As it stands, he will not be taking part in the Australian Open for the first time in 18 years, and his immediate aim of becoming a double-digit winner at a single slam is in tatters.
Encountering Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena is a daunting proposition for any player. It is his domain, his patch and his court. Rarely does the nine-time champion suffer defeat Down Under, yet this year he’s been dethroned without striking a single ball.
His personal choice has ultimately led to his non-participation, and it is the second time in seven majors his actions have prevented him from competing for the silverware he craves.
At the US Open in 2020, he was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line-judge with the ball and evicted from a tournament he was the overwhelming favourite to win. A moment of recklessness cost him in New York, but a long-term decision is responsible for his latest anguish.
The 20-time major winner has been victorious in 27 of his last 28 slam matches, and his dominance shows no sign of abating. His non-involvement at the Australian Open is unlikely to halt his spiralling major-haul for long, but at 34, every opportunity has to be embraced and cherished.
Djokovic encounters derision for his unconventional views, and it is a factor as to why his on-court achievements are under-appreciated. Despite his desire to be universally popular, many of his iconic performances have been in hostile environments.
The world No.1 will be unperturbed by a prolonged backlash to recent events and will use this latest drama to fuel his bid for an unrivalled legacy. Difficulties are more likely to be encountered regarding his vaccination status - and the wide-ranging approach countries adopt in terms of COVID-19 restrictions.
Italy has introduced new government-imposed measures - and the ATP has informed members: 'unvaccinated players will be permitted to compete at events provided they present a negative COVID-19 test every 48 hours. They will not be allowed to use tournament facilities, locker rooms, gyms, on-site cafes, restaurants or hotels.'
Rome hosts the Italian Open in May, a significant Masters event leading into Roland Garros. The unvaccinated will, begrudgingly, be welcomed with strict conditions attached. Djokovic, and others, will encounter similar, perhaps even tighter restrictions as the season progresses, and the constant uncertainty could impact his ability to play a full calendar.
Athletes resent missing matches and events through injury, so it will be particularly galling for Djokovic to observe his beloved Australian Open from afar while fit and healthy.
He has been handed a watching brief for a tournament that looked set to provide him with his crowning moment, a 21st slam success. He has had The Norman Brookes Trophy ripped from his grasp, and Daniil Medvedev can move within range of the world No.1 ranking by embarking on an unbeaten fortnight.
Djokovic has been blocked from defending his title and partaking in the sport he adores. Further upheaval and complications will impact his season unless his time in isolation results in an unlikely rethink.
The first major of the year promises to be compelling viewing, but it would be an even better spectacle if the finest player in the game had been in situ for a shot at a perfect ten.
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