Novak Djokovic Has Become A Toxic and Divisive Presence Who Cares About No One But Himself!

The world No 1 has become detached from reality in a vain pursuit of professional glory at the Australian Open, writes Kevin Garside

At what point does Novak Djokovic put the interests of others above his own?

At what stage does he accept that his presence in Australia, no matter how justified he feels it to be, is divisive and toxic?

Whatever is happening in Melbourne it seems tennis is no longer at the heart of it. What began as a straightforward quest to enter Australia in order to contest the Australian Open has become a drama of global fascination, one subsumed in a maelstrom of emotion, ill will and nationhood, overlaid by the politics of Covid and vaccine ethics.

Djokovic was straight out of detention and onto the court to hit the past few days out of his system, and point his muscle memory in the direction of grand slam win No 21, which is all that matters to him and, of course, answers the question put in the opening sentence. What is lost in his vain pursuit of professional glory is the scale of a pandemic that is consuming Australia anew.

As Djokovic’s appeal against his visa block was being heard, Covid struck great Australian hope Nick Kyrgios, who is now a doubt for the tournament that Djokovic is set to grace unvaccinated.

Since he appeared to attend an event for young players in Belgrade the day after testing positive for Covid last month and organised the ill-fated Adria Tour last summer, it is clear Djokovic has scant regard for the protocols governing the fight against the pandemic.

It is clear also that his parents and supporters, in their inevitable personalising of the dispute, have lost sight of the bigger issue here. At a media conference called by his family in Belgrade, his parents framed his victory in court as greater than any achieved on court.

“The biggest win of his career, bigger than any grand slam,” said mum of her freedom fighter son, who, as she would have it, stared down Australian state oppression to prevail like the champion he is.
Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Dad spoke of the unbreakable spirit of a young man from a small, poor country, the same spirit deployed “to be the best in their so-called bourgeois sport”. Nationhood and identity are powerful forces in any setting. In a country hardened by a Balkan tragedy that still scars the region, it is all too readily harnessed and there is no greater symbol of Serbian culture and pride than Djokovic, the ubermensch of their world. Thus are the people of Serbia and their apostles in Melbourne, fed by a zeitgeist connecting them via ancient folk memory to some mythical past that compels them to fight for something greater than victory at tennis.

There is nothing wrong with parental love and national connection, but not at the expense of perspective during a pandemic that has claimed 5.5 million lives and counting. As irony would have it, during their coverage of the family broadcast, the BBC ran a news line in text at the bottom of the screen urging pregnant women to get vaccinated.

The depiction of Djokovic as victim in this case has perverted the reality. Djokovic played by the rules and was treated poorly by Australian border control but is no longer the powerless soul who as a child sheltered from bombs in the time of war. He is one of the most influential athletes in the world who counts his millions by the hundred and has at his back the best lawyers money can buy. While he was hitting balls with renewed energy, the asylum seekers and refugees he left behind in the Melbourne detention hotel were sifting food for maggots in anonymity, powerless to change their circumstances.

There was no call for justice on their behalf as Melbourne’s business district convulsed under the weight of “support” for Djokovic. Sympathisers draped in Serbian regalia followed him from the detention hotel, where they danced for three days, to the offices of his lawyers in Collins Street after his “victory” in court. Though successful in his appeal the prospect of further action from the Australian immigration authorities threatening to re-instate the ban inflamed an already tense atmosphere. The dancers had changed clothes and were now a mob surrounding a vehicle that might or might not have held Djokovic within.

The yobs that threw bottles and taunted police as the car sped towards its destination were not protesting injustice but perpetrating violence in some vague nationalistic cause fuelled by hot takes in the mother country.

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to work out how this might proceed should Djokovic walk out in Melbourne Park next Monday to begin the defence of his crown. An unprecedented 21st grand slam crown is the prize. He is chasing immortality. At 34, the tide is beginning to ebb, his renowned athleticism and physicality diminishing by nature’s decree.

Nothing in his professional life has mattered more to him than the chance to win a 10th Australian Open title and separate himself once and for all from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the grand slam chain of command. Yet to attempt to do so will prompt the circling of wagons against the wrath of a public beaten and exhausted by pandemic constraints, enforced separations from family and loved ones, the very protocols it should be remembered that Djokovic slipped to gain entry into Australia.
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