Novak Djokovic did not look quite like his usual self at Roland Garros, but after the way the sport has treated him this year – and how the ATP have failed him – who can really blame him?
Many people – far too many in our opinion – will tell you it is hard to feel sympathy for Novak Djokovic. Even now.
Djokovic came into the French Open as the defending champion and, although he lost in the quarterfinals to Rafael Nadal, he was still one half of the best match at the tournament.
There is, of course, absolutely no shame in losing to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Many have done it before and many will, foot permitting, do it again. The fact Djokovic went into that match with a chance to get a third victory over Nadal on Chatrier was already unprecedented.
Some, though, thought Djokovic just didn’t look his usual self in that match, and indeed has not all season since the events of Australia.
“Rafa did not play a spectacular match, but the body language decided, from the first point until the last: Rafa’s body language and Novak’s body language,” Goran Ivanisevic observed after that match.
“It was like he lacked energy and like he did not believe sufficiently that he could win.
The truth of the matter here is, if Novak Djokovic feels like he just can’t win at the moment no matter what he does, it’s not all that surprising. He’s not really being given much of a chance to, is he?
We can debate until we are blue in the face, and some already have, about vaccines. Frankly, world events have made it very difficult not to have an opinion on the matter.
However, none of those opinions are a crime. Djokovic, like everyone else, has every right to decide what to put in their own bodies, regardless of what our own decision would be. Certainly, there should be no reason to believe ‘comeuppance’ is due to anyone for making a decision that falls perfectly within their rights.
There should be little in the way, therefore, of people saying Djokovic ‘deserves’ any misery that comes his way as a result of his choices. But, of course, there will be.
Ultimately, Djokovic is paying an unreasonably heavy price for his choice. Barring a U-turn from the ATP and US government, he will be denied the chance to defend 5,200 ranking points this season.
We are not talking about injury or loss of form or simply being beaten by better players here. He will essentially be stripped of the ability to even defend them. If you think that is fair and right, then you’d also struggle to convince anyone you are a believer in the values of a sporting chance.
The 2,000 points Djokovic won, fair and square, at the Australian Open last year are already done due to the ugly saga that resulted in his deportation. The 2,000 he won at Wimbledon last year, again fair and square, will be stripped away from him along with the rest of the points at the tournament because a madman has invaded a sovereign nation. He will lose a further 1,200 if he is not allowed into America to play the US Open.
That is a colossal amount of points. In fact, in the current ATP rankings, it is enough points from those three tournaments along to get you into the world’s top six.
Obviously, the ATP cannot be held responsible for the border control decisions made by the US and Australian governments, but their stance on Wimbledon has certainly failed Djokovic – and every other player on Tour for that matter.
Opinions on Whether Wimbledon are right to ban players from Russia and Belarus vary, and the ATP’s observation that it unfairly punishes those players affected is reasonable enough.
However, the ATP’s solution to strip the rankings points from Wimbledon goes so far that it unfairly punishes everyone, so it is hard to see how that is any better. You could argue it is equality in action, certainly, but few could argue it is fair.
It is perhaps just a bargaining chip, an attempt to force Wimbledon to reverse their decision and allow the Russian and Belarusian players to play. If that is the case, it has clearly failed and therefore we could see the ATP make a U-turn with their tails between their legs.
They may also decide some kind of compromise solution to freeze the ranking points that players earned at SW19 in 2021.
Unless something happens, though, Novak Djokovic has a legitimate cause to feel quite badly done to. Yes, punishing everyone instead of just some may be equality in action, but not all players stand to lose the same from it, and Djokovic has the most to lose so, in actuality, he comes out of it with the greatest punishment.
Stack that on top of him also not being allowed to defend his ranking points in Australia and the US, then it comes as little surprise, frankly, if he is looking a little dejected with tennis right now and short of on-court energy.
Novak Djokovic will, of course, bounce back. If his career has shown us anything it is that he is quite supremely resilient.
Without a doubt, though, he has been failed by the ATP and the Players Council over the Wimbledon situation and he absolutely deserves a lot better than that.
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