Why tennis is losing as much as Novak Djokovic after US Open withdrawal

Novak Djokovic looking on

It has seemed inevitable for some time now, but the final confirmation that Novak Djokovic is out of the US Open still came as a hammer blow for tennis.

Critics of the Serbian will argue that he is the master of his own downfall as he prepares to miss his second major championship of 2022 due to his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but this story has moved on a long way from his initial crisis in Australia in January.

At the start of 2022, the world was still coming to terms with how we could move on from a pandemic that ripped through every aspect of our lives in an alarming fashion.

Roll the club forward to late August and much of the world has returned to normal, with capacity crowds at sporting and music events symbolising how we have all found away to live with a virus that ended normality for the world.

Air travel has resumed to almost normal levels now and yet America continues to insist all visitors need to vaccinated against Covid-19, even if many arriving the country have not had the most recent Covid jab for more than a year.

While Djokovic continues to stand by his principles and refuses to take the vaccine, the damage being done to his career and legacy continues to mount.

If his deportation from Australia in January was a humiliation, this latest hammer blow is merely a sporting tragedy, as the player who confirmed he is probably still the best in the world as he won the Wimbledon title for a seventh time last month is left to watch a Grand Slam title from afar for a second time this year.

Should we feel sorry for Djokovic?

Not really, as he openly admits he appreciated the consequences of his decision to step away from taking a Covid vaccine and the full ramifications of that decision are now being played out.

Yet as former British No 1 Laura Robson told Tennis365 earlier this month, Djokovic needs to accept that he has made a decision that will mean he is a bystander in the tennis world until the global travel rules change.

“There is something he could do about it, of course, but ultimately tennis is such a minor blip in the US government’s policy,” Robson told Tennis365.

“I can’t imagine that they will change it for one person, as nice as it would be for the tennis world.

“You would think (he would be favourite if he played). The way he came through at Wimbledon, he just never really looked in doubt. Every time he was in trouble he found another gear or five more gears.

“There’s not a lot we can do about him not being there, but it’s a shame for the tournament.”

Robson’s final point is arguably the most significant in the debate that has dominated tennis in 2022 and clearly now, Djokovic absence from major events is impacting the sport.

His non-appearance at the US Open will ensure he drops out of the top ten of the ATP rankings and given the length of time he will be out before he plays again, a period of adjustment will ensure the rest of this year will be challenging for Djokovic.

The former world No 1 struggled to get back to his best when he returned following the farcical scenes in Australia in January and now he finds himself looking on once again as the tennis world progresses without him.

Djokovic is losing valuable chances to add to his haul of 21 Grand Slam titles and if he is barred from entering Australia for the same reasons in January, he will be 36 by the time he tries to add to his haul of major titles at the French Open next May.

“I mean, we have to find a way to get Novak into the US Open,” tennis legend John McEnroe told Tennis365 in June. “How can he not be there? He has just won Wimbledon, he is a great champion and he should be in the US Open.

“I don’t agree with his decision not to get vaccinated, but I respect it. He is one of the fittest guys in the world and everything he puts into his body, he is watching carefully.

“Now we are saying that because of his choice, he can’t play at the US Open. I mean, come on. He has already been deported from Australia for the same reason and here we are again.

“I hope someone finds a way to sort this out. It’s crazy that Novak misses the US Open at this stage.”

Tennis is missing one of its biggest draws and best players as the Djokovic saga continues to dominate the tennis agenda.

Only Novak can confirm whether he regrets a decision that continues to have a lingering impact on his career and while he would never admit as much publicly, he must wonder whether avoiding this fate would have been a more sensible option.