Novak Djokovic has been the architect of two of the greatest seasons of all time on the ATP Tour.
In 2011 he started the year with a 41-match winning run and finished it with three Grand Slam titles. In 2015 he compiled an 82-6 win-loss record, won three more majors, six Masters titles, and the ATP Finals.
If those were Djokovic's high points, what is 2022 shaping up to be? He will likely finish the season with one Grand Slam title, miss out on a chance of winning another two due to being unvaccinated against Covid-19, have spent large chunks of the season as inactive, compete in less than 10 tournaments on the ATP Tour, and play his fewest number of matches since his second professional season in 2005.
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For one of the game's all-time greats, it will be one of the most unconventional seasons in history. And with one month to go until the US Open starts, the rest of Djokovic’s year is in limbo.
While the former world No. 1 appeared to hint at a trip to New York to take Nick Kyrgios out for dinner following their Wimbledon final, unless the United States changes its entry rules to allow unvaccinated people into the country, Djokovic will not be able to compete. He will also be ruled out of playing any lead-up events, including the ATP 1000 Canadian Open in Montreal, as Canada also requires foreign travellers to the country to be vaccinated.
Much like in Australia earlier this year, Djokovic is playing a waiting game: either the United States and Canada change their entry rules or he won’t be allowed to travel. The US Open has ruled out any Australian Open-style exemption for the 21-time Grand Slam champion, which is probably for the best for everyone given what happened Down Under.
Djokovic seems more resigned to the decision than he did in Melbourne, and his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, is not hopeful of a positive outcome.
“I don’t know about the US Open, it’s difficult,” he told Croatian newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija ahead of the Croatia Open in Umag. “I am more optimistic that I will get an invitation and win Umag than that they will let him to the US Open.”
Just as the United States and Canada don’t seem likely to change their entry rules this summer, nor does Djokovic seem open to changing his vaccine stance.
Having said earlier this year that he was willing to miss Grand Slams due to his decision to not get vaccinated, Djokovic has stayed true to his word. Asked at Wimbledon if he had closed his mind to getting vaccinated, Djokovic answered in the affirmative. He added after the final: “I'm not vaccinated and I'm not planning to get vaccinated so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption.

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“I don't think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don't know what exemption would be about. I don't know. I don't have much answers there. I think it's just whether or not they remove this in time for me to get to USA.”
Djokovic also said he would “wait hopefully for some good news” and play “a tournament or two before the US Open”. But with four weeks to go until the final Grand Slam of the year there doesn’t appear to be any policy change on the horizon. As the tennis tours prepare to reboot for the North American hard swing, Djokovic faces another extended spell on the sidelines, missing two Masters events in Montreal and Cincinnati along with the US Open, an event he came so close to making history at last year when he saw his Calendar Slam bid ended by Daniil Medvedev in the final.
If Djokovic does or doesn't play in New York it will be a big story and no doubt a hot talking point early in the tournament. But if he does miss August, it is unclear when Djokovic will play another ranking event.
His next competitive appearance could be for Serbia in the Davis Cup group stage, which start the week after the US Open on September 13. Serbia are in a group with Spain, Canada and South Korea, and Djokovic has expressed his desire to play in the competition.
“I love playing for my country. Going to try to be part of that,” he said after the Wimbledon final.
Then comes the Laver Cup, when Djokovic will play alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray for Team Europe. It will be the first time the ‘Big Four’ have played at the same tournament since the 2019 Australian Open and the first time Djokovic has played the Laver Cup since 2018. Nadal could by then have restored his two-Grand Slam lead over Djokovic in the all-time standings if he wins the US Open for his 23rd major.

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The Laver Cup will be played on September 23. And then? “Next thing you know the season is over, right?” said Djokovic at Wimbledon, while adding that he doesn’t think he will “chase points” in a bid to make the ATP Finals.
The top eight players in the yearly Race to Turin rankings qualify for the ATP Finals. Djokovic is currently 10th in the standings, but winning a Grand Slam title also secures a place in the finals if the champion is positioned between eighth and 20th in the race. Only once since 2006 (when he did not qualify in 2017) has Djokovic missed the ATP Finals.
Post-Laver Cup there are plenty of opportunities for Djokovic to return. After the ATP Tour cancelled all events in China, there have been tournaments added in San Diego, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Florence, Gijon and Naples. At the end of October there are ATP 500 events in Vienna and Basel, the latter currently marked for Federer’s return to the ATP Tour, and also the final Masters 1000 of the season in Paris, where Djokovic would be defending champion.
If Djokovic doesn’t play another ranking event until October that would be a three-and-a-half month stretch since his Wimbledon victory without an ATP tournament, excluding the Laver Cup. Add that to the start of his season when he played three matches in the first four months and it makes for a very spring/early summer-loaded year.
But Djokovic does not seem phased. Although he has acknowledged the difficulties of overcoming what happened in Australia – “a huge challenge and obstacle for me to overcome emotionally” – he has also made clear his priorities at this stage of his career.
“I don't really feel any pressure or necessity to play a certain schedule,” he said after Wimbledon.
“And things have changed in the last year, year and a half for me. I achieved that historic No. 1, weeks for No. 1, that I worked for all my life. Now that that's done and dusted, I prioritise Slams and big tournaments really and where I want to play, where I feel good.”
This is an intriguing part of Djokovic’s career. Over the last 15 years he has shown his greatness on countless occasions, but not since winning his first major at the 2008 Australian Open has he played a schedule as sparse as this year. It won’t be long before the 2023 Australian Open is on the horizon, bringing with it questions over whether Djokovic will be able to enter or if he will have to again sit out the first few months of the season again.
Djokovic has said retirement is not on his mind – “I don't feel I'm in rush really anywhere to end my career in a year’s time or two years’ time or whatever it is…I'm not thinking about it” – but there are perhaps more questions over what lies ahead for him in the immediate future than at any other stage of his career.
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04/08/2022 AT 17:01