Analysis: Unvaccinated Djokovic’s pursuit of Nadal on hold
Wimbledon, England — Fresh off a seventh Wimbledon championship, which gave him his 21st Grand Slam title — one ahead of Roger Federer, one behind Rafael Nadal — Novak Djokovic is headed off to vacation. What’s unclear is exactly how long a break he will take.
And when he will be able to resume his pursuit of the major trophies he figures, correctly, that fans, and history, value the most.
The next Slam tournament is the U.S. Open, and as of now, Djokovic can’t participate because he is not inoculated against COVID-19.
“I would really,” he said, “love to go there.”
As an unvaccinated foreigner, though, he can’t enter the United States. He tried to get around coronavirus-related rules at the Australian Open in January via a tournament-backed exemption, ended up in court and in detention, and eventually had his visa revoked and was deported from that country — which all could hamper efforts to return there in 2023.
So it’s truly hard to know what’s next for Djokovic. It is certainly an unusual sort of limbo.
This is all up to him, of course, and he has steadfastly insisted — and insisted again Sunday after beating Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Sunday at the All England Club — “I’m not planning to get vaccinated.”
There is no doubt that he already has accomplished more than enough to burnish his resume, reputation and standing in the pantheon of tennis. That’s why, for example, the 35-year-old Serb is not too fussed about no longer being No. 1 (he already broke Federer’s record for the most weeks atop the ATP) or about sliding to No. 7 in Monday’s rankings despite a fourth triumph in a row at the All England Club.
These are unusual times, to say the least, and as of this week, Djokovic loses the 2,000 points he accrued for winning the 2021 title at Wimbledon, while simultaneously gaining zero points for winning the 2022 title, a result of the WTA and ATP tours withholding all ranking points in response to the ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus over the war in Ukraine.
So No. 1-ranked Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who beat Djokovic in last year’s U.S. Open final to end his bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam by a man since 1969, was not allowed to be at the All England Club. And now it seems Djokovic will not be allowed to be at Flushing Meadows, where play begins on Aug. 29.
Federer, who hasn't played in a year and slid out of the rankings entirely Monday, won't be at the U.S. Open. Nadal's status is uncertain after he pulled out of Wimbledon with a torn abdominal muscle.
The saga in Melbourne six months ago took a toll on Djokovic. He said so. As did his coach, Goran Ivanisevic.
“This was a huge thing, what happened to him,” Ivanisevic said. “We all expected (to hear) from him after a couple of weeks: ‘OK, forget about Australia. Let’s go back and practice.'"
That’s not how it went. Instead, Ivanisevic recalled, “It took a long time.”
Djokovic said the whole episode “affected me, definitely, in the first several months of the year. I was not feeling great, generally. I mean, mentally, emotionally, I was not at a good place.”
Did Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001, worry about lingering effects on Djokovic’s ability to be at his best, to win the biggest events?
“No. People like him, you don’t doubt,” Ivanisevic said. “He’s a great champion.”
After eventually putting Australia behind him, Djokovic also needed to set aside a French Open quarterfinal loss to Nadal. If Djokovic’s play was not perfect throughout Wimbledon, his fortitude was, with comeback wins in each of his last three matches.
“He’s so composed,” Kyrgios said. “You can’t seem to rattle him.”
Djokovic is the second-oldest man to claim a singles championship at Wimbledon in the professional era, which dates to 1968. He’s now got nine major titles since turning 30, one more than Nadal for the most in that span.
After a career spent chasing Federer in the Slam standings, Djokovic now has surpassed him.
He would like to surpass Nadal, too, something that might take longer if Djokovic won’t make himself eligible for every major event.
Not that he sounds anything at all like someone thinking about retiring.
“I don’t feel I’m in a rush, really anywhere, to end my career in a year’s time or two years’ time or whatever it is. Just, I’m not thinking about it,” Djokovic said. “I want to keep my body healthy ’cause that’s obviously necessary in order to keep going at this level.”