Novak Djokovic’s hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open were in tatters on Thursday after his visa was canceled upon arrival in Melbourne.
AFP Sport examines the implications for the tournament if Djokovic is unable to participate when he begins the first Grand Slam of the year on January 17.
– No tenth title –
World number one Djokovic would have been chasing a 10th title at Melbourne Park and a record 21st Grand Slam crown.
The 34-year-old Serbian was Australian Open champion in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
His hopes of another title in 2022 were derailed on a dramatic night at Melbourne airport when he was barred from entering Australia and his visa was canceled.
The Serbian landed on Wednesday night after celebrating on social media that he had a medical exemption to play in the tournament without proof that he was fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The vaccine exemption, which can only be granted after the approval of two medical panels, sparked anger among Australians who have endured the Covid-19 closures and restrictions for two years.
– Opportunity knocks on the door for Nadal? –
Without Djokovic, the sport’s romantics will dream of Rafael Nadal winning a 21st Slam and joining his only win in Australia in 2009.
The 35-year-old Spaniard is tied for 20 Grand Slam titles with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Nadal arrives in Australia after being knocked down by Covid-19 at the end of last year and having been out of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021 due to a foot injury.
Federer, a six-time Australian Open winner, is absent as the 40-year-old struggles to recover from a knee injury.
– New name on the trophy? –
Since Marat Safin triumphed in Melbourne in 2005, the Australian Open Norman Brookes Challenge Cup has been the almost exclusive property of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.
Only Stan Wawrinka in 2014, when he beat Nadal in the final, has interrupted 16 years of dominance by the sport’s “Big Three”, and will also miss this year’s event due to injury.
Thus, the stage could be set for a new name in the famous trophy with Safin’s Russian compatriot Daniil Medvedev in line to win a second major after dashing Djokovic’s hopes of a Grand Slam schedule at the US Open in 2021.
Medvedev lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in straight sets last year, but came to Australia encouraged by helping Russia win a third Davis Cup in December.
If Medvedev falters, German Alexander Zverev or Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas will have a great opportunity to lift a first Slam crown.