Novak Djokovic may have won his last Grand Slam, that is according to seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander.
Djokovic has left Australia after a last-ditch visa appeal was rejected. The world No. 1 initially had his visa cancelled for failing to adequately meet the criteria for a medical exemption, but won an appeal. Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, then re-cancelled the visa "on health and good order grounds”. The nine-time champion again appealed the decision but that appeal was thrown out.
"I’m surprised and I’m shocked. I’m a little bit exhausted as well because we have been hearing about this for a week," began Wilander.
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"I give Novak a lot of credit for trying but at the same time he knew there might be the possibility that with the rules you have to be vaccinated. But you also have to think about the other players – they have been asked about this for the whole time they have been in Australia. But the big thing for me, the best tennis players in the world, they are globally famous people and this has really been one of the biggest stories this year.
"It’s sad news, but we will have a new winner.
"Do I think it’s fair? Well I think it’s fair [because] millions of people have died from Covid around the world and Australia has decided to go into full lockdown for most of the time. Australians have been suffering both mentally and physically of course like everybody else, so I think in the end Novak tried everything he could and I think it was very difficult to go back on what they [the Australian government] said at first."
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'Changing the history of our sport'
Djokovic was due to begin the defence of his Australian Open title on Monday against Miomir Kecmanovic but the decision to deport the world No. 1 denies him the opportunity to win a record-extending 10th crown at Melbourne Park. His pursuit of a 21st Grand Slam title will now have to wait until Roland Garros. However, Wilander thinks that the decision made by the judge could change the course of sporting history.
"The judge has to realise that maybe he is changing the history of our sport – but what can you do?" Wilander said.
"I cannot imagine the state of mind Novak must be in right now plus it’s by far his most favourite tournament – one he has won nine times – he’s chasing 21 Grand Slams and this was his big chance to go ahead of Roger and Rafa. To me, now there is a good chance all three will end up on 20 Grand Slams which will be amazing."
France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has confirmed that Djokovic should be able to compete at the French Open regardless of his vaccination status but doubts remain as to the regulations surrounding Wimbledon and the US Open. The French is Djokovic’s least successful Grand Slam – he has won that tournament twice, in 2016 and 2021.
And Wilander added that his career is now on the line.
"I think players think they can beat Novak. But at the same time, you know he is a warrior. He is going to go home, practice, and he’s going to work out and get ready for the hard courts. The big question is whether he is going to be able to travel around the world?" added Wilander.
"Could we have a new number one? Well, it’s possible. I think so much depends on how much Novak is allowed to travel, how many tournaments he is allowed to play, and in the end, is he going to have to get vaccinated? His career is on the line and he might have to do something that he doesn’t really want to do."
In his statement regarding the decision, Djokovic said he was "uncomfortable" with the focus of the last few weeks and Wilander thinks the story will dominate the opening few days of the tournament but he expects other narratives will emerge.
"I think it will have slightly negative consequences for the tournament early on because people are obviously going to be talking about it, and the crowd are going to be talking about it," Wilander said.
"But after a few days I think we are going to realise that the players are so good on the men’s side and the women’s side – Ash Barty, of course, is going to be the big story now.
"There are so many good young players. But for the first couple of days, questions are going to be asked to the players at the press conferences. I don’t even know if the story is going to be over by the end of the Australian Open."
The Australian Open begins on Monday January 17.
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