First Serve – What we learned as Djokovic returns

First Serve – What we learned as Djokovic returns

As the desert dust settles half-way through the Middle Eastern swing, the long awaited return of Novak Djokovic – but not before he gave his point of view to BBC’s Amol Rajan on his version of events that dominated the run up to the Australian Open. 

But before we get to him – let’s do out weekly round-up of this week’s winners.

Week 7 Winner’s Circle

  • ATP 500 Rio de Janeiro: Carlo Alcaraz
  • WTA 500 Dubai: Jelena Ostapenko
  • ATP 250 Doha: Roberto Bautista Agut
  • ATP 250 Delray Beach: Cameron Norrie

ATP Rankings as at 21 February

1Novak DjokovicSerbia8,875
2Daniil MedvedevRussia8,435
3Alexander ZverevGermany7,515
4Stefanos TsitsipasGreece6,565
5Rafael NadalSpain6,515
6Matteo BerrettiniItaly4,928
7Andrey RublevRussia4,590
8Casper RuudNorway3,975
9Felix Auger-AliassimeCanada3,883
10Jannik SinnerItaly3,429

WTA Rankings as at 21 February

1Ashleigh BartyAustralia8,330
2Aryna SabalenkaBelarus5,563
3Barbora KrejcikovaCzech Republic5,003
4+1Paula BadosaSpain4,429
5-1Karolina PliskovaCzech Republic4,347
6+2Maria SakkariGreece4,191
7-1Anett KontaveitEstonia4,137
8+1Iga SwiatekPoland3,986
9-2Garbine MuguruzaSpain3,350
10Ons JabeurTunisia3,065

Unpacking the return of Djokovic

The was a lot to digest in Djokovic’s exclusive interview with the BBC’s Amol Rajan. We take a look at the key points

Djokovic will not go back on his principles, for now…

The World No. 1 was very keen to back away from the label of “anti-vaxxer” but just that he does not feel that he has enough information on this vaccine. Except there are many vaccines and not just the one. But he did say that he was prepared to pay the price of not being able to compete where countries have stringent requirements to stand by his principles.

This is no surprise – he has always been very vocal about the control of what he puts in his body. And deep down, no-one is that surprised he is sticking to his beliefs, for now. What will change his mind? Who knows? But he leaves a door open either way.

But he is happy to stand on other’s acceptance of the vaccine?

Now this is an interesting one. He is in Dubai thanks to the measures everyone else has made over the past two years to get the sporting world back to a place that we can even have events, but is not prepared to join everyone? 

The tennis elite spend their life in a travelling bubble and can sometimes be accused of not really being in touch with the rank and file who keep the sport going. Fans for many events must prove their vaccination status to be able to provide these stars with an audience (and let’s be honest… their prize money).

Still questions to be asked about his original Australian application

The visa he applied for stated he could not be vaccinated having been diagnosed (for a second time) with Covid, but it is very clear in the interview that he has no (current) intention to get vaccinated. So was he exploiting a loop-hole regardless of his personal convictions? It sure sounds like it.

The key reason why the Australian Federal government banged the hammer down on Djokovic as because of the fear that his presence would stir up anti-vaccination sentiment, and there is no getting around it – Djokovic’s followers see him as a guide for their own actions. Serbia as a country has a low take-up of the vaccine, and whether he likes it or not, where he leads, plenty will follow. 

Where could Djokovic still have issues?

The threat from Omicron has dwindled from the original fears, but countries are still cautious. And the goalposts are still shifting. Will he be able to bounce around Europe in time for Roland Garros and Wimbledon? Quite possibly. But will he be able to get to the next big events in March for Indian Wells and Miami? The sunshine double is less certain. And these are ATP 1000 Masters events so with all due respect to the post Slam events, these are the first biggies of the ATP tour since the Australian Open.

World No. 1 is at stake

Would it do the tour harm if he gets toppled off the World No. 1 spot – if Daniil Medvedev wins in Acapulco he will claim the top spot, and so please at that point can we just go back to concentrating on the chasers to the Big Three.

As it stands Rafael Nadal rules the roost, Djokovic can chase, access to countries notwithstanding, and Roger Federer’s chances at catching up are dwindling rapidly. Do we need a new narrative as we go into March? We’d say so.

The best tennis betting can be found for the week’s active tournaments on bet365