Novak Djokovic speaks following his US Open defeat against Daniil Medvedev.
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It’s looking increasingly likely that Novak Djokovic will skip the Australian Open. The world No 1 has been outspoken against vaccine mandates and the Australian government are set to ban those who are unvaccinated, not granting them a visa into the country. With the nine-time champion set to be absent in Melbourne, multiple young stars will be looking to seize the opportunity and start the 2022 season with a Grand Slam title under their belt.
Djokovic has cast doubt over his participation in the upcoming Australian Open, as the nine-time champion admitted he was unsure whether he would compete.
It comes as the Australian government is set to ban unvaccinated players from the tournament, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently announcing: “I don’t think an unvaccinated tennis player is going to get a visa to come into this country and if they did get a visa, they’d probably have to quarantine for a couple of weeks.”
The world No 1 has previously been outspoken against vaccine mandates, and recently told Serbian newspaper Blic that he did not know if he would compete in Australia after refusing to disclose his vaccination status.
“I’m telling you from the sporting point of view, I don’t know if I’ll go. Of course, I want to go, Australia is my most successful Grand Slam, I want to participate, I love this sport, I still have the motivation, but I said why I have this motivation. That’s the whole story,” he said.
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In the increasingly likely event Djokovic does not compete in Australia, several players will fancy their chances of winning the title. Express Sport takes a look at some of the biggest contenders for the Australian Open title.
The world No 2 recently defeated Djokovic in the US Open final to lift his maiden Grand Slam title, and will be looking to immediately add to his tally in Melbourne, where he would likely be the top seed in the Serb’s absence.
He also fell to the world No 1 in the final earlier this year, so will be seeking the chance to go one future at the Aussie Open in January.
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The Greek made his first-ever Major final at Roland Garros earlier this year and lost to Djokovic after leading by two sets. Tsitsipas had his big breakthrough at the Australian Open, knocking out Federer back in 2019, so it would be a fitting venue for the world No 3 to win a maiden Grand Slam title. He will also benefit from the heavy Greek crowd support often seen in Melbourne.
A Grand Slam is the one big title now eluding the German, who has everything from an Olympic gold medal to the year-end ATP Finals title to several Masters 1000 trophies already under his belt. The world No 4 led Dominic Thiem by two sets in the 2020 US Open final before losing in five, so will be looking for the chance to get his hands on a Major for the first time after coming close a year ago.
The Russian was one of the most consistent players of 2020, but has been able to achieve more milestones this season, reaching his first Masters 1000 final by beating ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal en route in Monte Carlo, and reaching a second in Cincinnati. He also won a gold medal in the mixed doubles event in Tokyo over the summer, teaming up with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and made his top five debut following the US Open. He will be looking to prove himself even further next season – what better way to do that than by starting the year with a Major title?
Another recent first-time Grand Slam finalist, Berrettini took the first set off Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final before falling in four sets. The Italian also reached several more milestones this season – reaching his first Masters final in Madrid and winning his first ATP 500 final in Queens. The world No 7 was forced to pull out of the Australian Open earlier this year with abdominal pain, having made it to the second week, and was out of the game until April.
All of his Grand Slam losses in 2021 came to Novak Djokovic – as well as the Wimbledon final, he lost to the world No 1 in the quarterfinals of both Roland Garros and the US Open – so no one will be happier to see the Serb out of a Slam draw.
The world No 9 has been one of the players of the season, winning five titles this year. While the 22-year-old was previously considered more of a clay-court specialist, he has proven himself on the hard courts in the second half of the year by winning San Diego and being part of the winning Team Europe at the Laver Cup.
Although he’s had one of the most successful seasons, he has lacked at the Grand Slams – Ruud retired in the Australian Open fourth round, and suffered five-set losses in the French Open third round and Wimbledon first round, also losing in US Open second round – so he will be looking to add Major success to his recent achievements in Melbourne.
The Austrian became the first male player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title when he hoisted the US Open trophy last year. He was forced to end his season after picking up a wrist injury on the grass courts of Mallorca in June but has already declared he is eyeing the Australian Open for his return. Thiem made three Major finals prior to winning his first – two in Roland Garros and one in Australia back in 2020, when he led Djokovic by two sets to one before losing in five.
Although it will be the former world No 3’s first tournament in half a year, Thiem could benefit from the extended period of rest, recovery and training, and could repeat Federer’s antics from back in 2017 when the Swiss star ended his season after Wimbledon in 2016 and returned to win his then-18th Major Down Under.
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