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Novak down under

Novak Djokovic was most definitely in the pits at the start of the year. As World Number One and three-time defending champion of the Australian Open men’s singles tournament, he had grand designs on extending his streak. Unfortunately, his unvaccinated status ran counter to prevailing immigration rules in the country, leading to his eventual deportation and three-year ban. To say it was a blow to his aim to become the all-time best of the best in the sport would be to understate the obvious.

Fast forward to the present time, and Djokovic is in a much better position. True, he lost his ranking and has tumbled seven spots to eighth. And, true, his stubborn refusal to be inoculated against the COVID-19 virus has denied him opportunities to pad his Grand Slam total. While he did claim Wimbledon, he found himself stuck at 21 after missing the United States Open. On the other hand, the turn of the year gives him reason for optimism. He has been granted a visa to Australia following a relaxation of border provisions, and with it comes the lifting of his prohibition from subsequent entry.

“I was very happy to receive the news yesterday,” Djokovic said. “The Australian Open has been my most successful Grand Slam. I made some of the best memories there.” And if history is to be a gauge, he is poised to make some more. Regardless of standing, he cannot but be deemed the favorite to add to his haul of Norman Brooks Challenge Cups. And should he succeed in doing so, he will be reaching unprecedented heights as the King of Melbourne Park.

Whether Djokovic will rekindle his love affair with citizens Down Under, however, is another matter altogether. He alienated himself by turning to legalize support of his failed bid to compete in the 2022 Australian Open. In the face of uncertainties and threats posed by the pandemic, his move was seen at selfish and out of touch with reality. Then again, everybody loves winners, and forgiveness will likely come with the trophy. Which is why his objective is clear, and why a triumph has implications that go beyond the courts.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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