Novak Djokovic comment – Time to answer the questions and get back to tennis

Novak Djokovic on the march

Novak Djokovic would never have wanted to be caught up in the firestorm that engulfed him in Melbourne last month, but now he needs to douse the flames.

While the warning signs were flashing long before his doomed attempt to play at the Australian Open turned into an international incident, the world number one clearly didn’t expect his attempt to play in the first Grand Slam of the year would become┬áthe biggest story in tennis history.

Our comment piece on Tennis365 on December 1st suggested Djokovic was in danger of becoming “an anti-vaxxer poster boy” and while that label may seem harsh, many vaccine sceptics latched onto the story as it became bigger and then got bigger again helped to ensure Novak was their new champion.

Now comes the clean-up operation and Djokovic needs to take the lead in this phase of the story.

The notion that the 20-time Grand Slam champion tested positive for Covid in the 13-day window available after the Davis Cup was always likely to raise eyebrows, but medical records confirm that was the case.

Presumably, Djokovic would have missed the Australian Open without that positive test, so he was lucky to get Covid when he did.

When the BBC followed up on reports that initially surfaced in Germany questioning the validity of Djokovic’s positive test last week, the questions he was always going to have to answer were amplified on a big stage and those questions will linger despite Serbian officials insisting his conveniently timed positive test was accurate.

If you are on board with the first element of this story, his contentious period of┬ánon-isolation that included public events with children and an interview with L’Equipe remains a hugely challenging part of the narrative that needs to be explained.

What comes next is now hugely significant to Djokovic’s legacy because this great champion cannot allow his deportation from Australia and this vaccine story to become as big a part of his post-career obituary as his remarkable achievements on the court.

The debate over who is the greatest player of all-time has become a point of obsession for some Djokovic fans, but the truth is a sporting legacy is built on so many factors and that’s why what the next part of his vaccine saga is so important for how Novak will be viewed when he has hit his final ball.

Djokovic stated in Serbia on Thursday that he would soon be ready to release “his version” of events soon and sadly, neither of the options open to him look desirable.

Either he didn’t test positive for Covid-19 on December 16th or he attended public events knowing he was carrying the virus and was likely to pass it on to others.

Both versions of events are unpalatable for the wider audience who will pass the final judgment on this story and, given that he has already conceded he was wrong to continue with the L’Equipe interview in an Instagram post, he will probably stick with that version of events.

This will not sit well with many sceptics of a drama that continues to create huge interest a month after Djokovic posted a smiling photo of himself at an airport preparing to fly to Melbourne, but it may be the only option open to him now.

Djokovic is a tennis great and for those of us who love the sport rather than taking sides in a debate over individual rivalries or ‘GOAT’ debates, this story fills us with sadness.

We want to see this immaculately brilliant player back on the court, doing what he does best and winning the titles that will allow him to create more tennis history.

Yet Djokovic now needs to take the steps to put his version of events out there on the story that will continue to haunt him, as he needs to let the public decide whether they are willing to move on and view him primarily as a tennis player all over again.