Novak Djokovic’s hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open were in tatters Thursday after he had his visa cancelled upon arrival in Melbourne.
AFP Sport examines the implications for the tournament if Djokovic is unable to take part when the first Grand Slam of the year begins on January 17.
– No 10th 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 Serb 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 night of drama at Melbourne airport when he was barred from entering Australia and his visa was cancelled.
The Serb landed Wednesday night after celebrating on social media that he had a medical exemption to play in the tournament without proof he was fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The vaccine exemption, which can only be granted after clearance by two medical panels, sparked fury among Australians who have endured Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions for two years.
– Opportunity knocks for Nadal? –
With no Djokovic, the romantics of the sport will dream of Rafael Nadal instead winning a 21st Slam and adding to his sole victory in Australia in 2009.
The 35-year-old Spaniard is level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Nadal arrives in Australia having been laid low by Covid-19 at the back end of last year and having sat out Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021 because of a foot injury.
Six-time Australian Open winner Federer is missing as the 40-year-old battles to recover from a knee injury.
– New name on the trophy? –
Since Marat Safin triumphed in Melbourne in 2005, the Australian Open’s Norman Brookes Challenge Cup has been almost exclusively the property of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.
Only Stan Wawrinka in 2014 — when he beat Nadal in the final — has interrupted 16 years of domination by the sport’s “Big Three”, and he will also miss this year’s event because of injury.
So the stage could be set for a new name on the famous trophy with Safin’s Russian compatriot Daniil Medvedev in line to win a second major after dashing Djokovic’s hopes of a calendar Grand Slam at the US Open in 2021.
Medvedev lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in straight sets last year but he arrived in Australia buoyed by helping Russia to win a third Davis Cup in December.
Should Medvedev falter, Germany’s Alexander Zverev or Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas will have a great chance of lifting a maiden Slam crown.