Novak Djokovic is widely tipped to confirm his status as the greatest male tennis player of all time at the 2022 Australian Open. That's not to say he hasn't already; Djokovic has accomplished several feats that no man has ever come close to.
Statistically, however, the Serb is still tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the record of most Grand Slams won. Slam tally, according to many, is the clearest metric for determining the greatness of a player.
Winning 21 would leave no room for doubt. It could really be the final nail in the coffin of all GOAT debates.
But as things stand, there's a good chance that Novak Djokovic might not even play the Melbourne Slam. Australian Open chief Craig Tiley recently confirmed that COVID-19 vaccination would be mandatory to enter the tournament, which puts the participation of many players - including Djokovic - in doubt.
Speaking after his loss to Alexander Zverev at the Nitto ATP Finals, the World No. 1 said:
"We'll see. We'll have to wait and see. I haven’t been talking to them (the Australian Open organizers), to be honest. I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be and now that I know we'll just have to wait and see."
Novak Djokovic has been one of the most outspoken tennis players, and athletes in general, when it comes to opposing mandatory vaccination. He is not an anti-vaxxer per se, but he is of the opinion that people should get to decide whether they want to put something into their body or not.
On the one hand, that sounds like an irresponsible stance given that the world has been grappling with a pandemic for two years running. What makes it even more frustrating is that Djokovic is a celebrity who has a huge fan following, and whose opinion can directly influence millions.
On the other hand, the matter of individual rights cannot be completely ignored. People do usually get to choose what they put into their bodies. As a strong advocate of individual rights myself, I can totally see where Novak Djokovic is coming from.
But then again, there is the question of how far individual rights can extend. If Djokovic's individual right to not take the vaccine endangers other people's lives - based on the scientific data that unvaccinated people are more likely to be carriers - then it is not just about an individual anymore.
After a point, the matter becomes about public health and safety. And if Australia's government decides that that is something it wants to safeguard by every means possible, it absolutely does have the right to prevent an unvaccinated person from entering the country.
It is easy to see how complicated the whole issue is. There are valid points from both sides, which are correct in their own way. And anyone who tells you they can say for certain which viewpoint is wrong, is lying.
But where does the matter stand from the perspective of the man who is at the center of it all?
Novak Djokovic's decision - To play, or not to play
There are a few scenarios that could transpire from this point onward:
One is that Novak Djokovic decides to get vaccinated (right now it is unclear whether he is vaccinated or not) and plays the Australian Open. And if he does enter the tournament he will likely end up winning it, given that he is a nine-time champion in Melbourne who has looked borderline invincible there for much of his career.
But if Djokovic does confirm he has been vaccinated, he would be going against everything he has been talking about the last couple of years and thus risk invoking the ire of his fans. It's not just his fans who would likely be disappointed by that, but also many others who have held him up as the poster-child of freedom of autonomy against the supposed totalitarianism of vaccine madates.
The other alternative is that Novak Djokovic skips the Australian Open. While the Serb would become a bigger darling of the anti-vaxxer community by doing that, he would also miss out on a great opportunity.
This is, after all, the Serb's best and quickest chance of becoming the outright Slam leader.
Rafael Nadal has announced his plans to return in time for the Australian Open, which means he will likely be fit and healthy by the time the French Open rolls around. And we know how it usually goes with Nadal and Roland Garros; there is every possibility that the Spaniard will claim sole ownership of the record if Djokovic remains at 20 until then.
So if he were to skip just one Slam, Novak Djokovic risks postponing his dreams by a year. Even if he wins one of Wimbledon or the US Open, he would still only be able to tie Nadal - just in time for the tennis world to travel Down Under again for the 2023 Australian Open.
The cycle would then repeat itself, because Australia is unlikely to relax its vaccination mandate until the pandemic is completely over.
For a person like Novak Djokovic, there is no other avenue available. He is too big to pursue other, let us say less legal options. And Djokovic has always been an extremes kind of guy; there are no middle grounds for him.
Whatever option he chooses, there is no way the Serb comes out of this with a win. There is no obvious path, at least not right now.
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Either Novak Djokovic plays the Australian Open and comes across as a hypocrite, or he doesn't play and comes off as stubborn and unscientific. It remains to be seen whether he has the heart to risk losing (or at least postponing) a dream for the sake of his personal principles.
Q. Do you think Novak Djokovic will play the 2022 Australian Open?
87 votes so far