This is not my first opinion piece on the Novak Djokovic deportation saga. As a tennis fan and sports journalist, I’ve closely followed and reported on the continuous altercations between the World No. 1 and the Australian government. Over the last week, I’ve steadfastly defended my fellow Serb, and I’ve publicly called out the government for their harassment of a man who has broken no laws. I’ve prayed that he’s allowed to compete at the Australian Open. And yet, I am now the one telling Novak Djokovic to go home. In light of the re-cancellation of his visa, I implore Novak to pack up his bags and leave Australia. Here’s why.
Go Home, Novak
If you’ve somehow managed to stay away from the news these last few days, a quick summary is necessary before you read on.
Novak Djokovic, one of the best tennis players of all time, was detained (in horrible conditions) upon his arrival in Melbourne to play the Australian Open. His visa was cancelled after the Australian Border Force examined the validity of his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.
Djokovic and his lawyers won a subsequent appeal on grounds of procedural misconduct, and the World No. 1 has spent the last three days training at Melbourne Park. Unfortunately for the Serb, immigration minister Alex Hawks re-cancelled his visa on Friday, forcing the star back into immigration detention. A second appeal is being launched at the time of writing.
This situation is a lose-lose for the World No. 1. He’s in detention once more, which is bound to take a massive physical toll on him. He’s unlikely to have access to a tennis court until after his hearing on Sunday (he didn’t the first time).
The best-case scenario is a successful appeal and a Sunday release from immigration detention. It would be common courtesy for Tennis Australia to schedule the Djokovic-Kecmanovic first-rounder for late Tuesday night. This would give Djokovic roughly 48 hours to prepare for a two-week tournament.
The worst-case scenario is obvious: deportation and a three-year entry ban. Djokovic would, in this situation, miss out on an opportunity to win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title and break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. With Nadal competing in Melbourne, Djokovic could even fall behind in the race come January 31st.
Also under threat in the event of deportation is Djokovic’s No. 1 ranking. Daniil Medvedev currently trails Djokovic by 2,080 points on the ATP World Rankings. If the Serb were to withdraw, he would lose 2,000 points for failing to defend the title he won in 2021. If Medvedev were to win the tournament, he would better his performance from last year (he made the final), he would gain 800 ranking points and surpass Djokovic.
What should Djokovic Do?
There’s no denying that a lot is on the line, tennis-wise. But this is now about much more than just tennis. This is a matter of humanity, of personal rights.
Djokovic wants to win the Australian Open, desperately. But he needs to withdraw. Even if he wins the second appeal, he’ll come out of detention to a fresh whirlwind of hatred. He’d be booed and jeered at the Open.
Not to mention, the Serb will have to defeat younger, fitter players. This hasn’t stopped him before, but the World No. 1 normally follows a strict training and diet regimen to prepare for these showdowns. This time, he’ll be breaking the regimen while he’s in detention.
Additionally, Djokovic participating but failing to win the tournament would mean further food for his many haters to feast on. He’s not one to care much about public opinion, but for the sake of his family, friends, and fans, he should give it all up now. I personally could not handle witnessing the onslaught of undeserved criticism his tennis would get, on top of the ongoing attacks on his character.
Finally, a miraculous (and now nearly impossible) title run at the tournament would be bittersweet for Djokovic. Yes, he’d win his 21st major, but he’d do it in the country that has done everything to toss him out. He’d do it in front of people who have wished for his demise.
Before Sunday’s appeal, Djokovic should do the honorable thing and leave Australia. He should focus all his energy on winning magic number 21 at Roland-Garros in June. He’s the defending champion and there, and he’ll be greeted with open arms. And, as the cherry on top, he’d get to hear the Serbian anthem echo around Paris as he celebrates the biggest title of his career.
Main Photo from Getty.