Sunday, January 16

Australian Open 2022: Djokovic against the world, again | sports

Novak Djokovic’s life has always passed between excessive terms. From the bombings that marked his childhood (and to a large extent, his personality) to sporting successes, adorned his record of all kinds of records. Nole never wanted to tiptoe past. The Serbian (Belgrade, 34 years old) knows that there is no better key to transcend than that of victory, but he has never neglected form. In the same way that guys like Connors or Lendl will be accompanied by the stamp of bad blood, McEnroe or Agassi by transgression, Federer or Edberg by neatness, or Nadal by the most irreducible spirit, their career will always be defined by noise and extremes, for all or nothing, from pole to pole. Because he wanted it that way. Because simply, the plain bores Djokovic, again in the center of the hurricane, held in a Melbourne hotel awaiting trial on Monday for an irregularity in his visa when he wanted to enter the country without being vaccinated against the covid.

The Secretary of State in the Serbian Foreign Ministry, Nemanja Starovic, declared that the 34-year-old Serbian is treated as a criminal, terrorist or illegal immigrant by the Australian authorities and that this “makes his fans and citizens of Serbia bitter” , although the Australian head of the Interior, Karen Andrews, said today that the Nole is free to return to his country whenever he wants.

“I grew up in the mountains and spent a lot of time with wolves, so I have that energy, the energy of the wolf. They act very instinctively, and I see corresponding traits in me. I have the feeling that, in some way, they are my spirit guides. ” Tennis number one discounts the hours waiting for the judicial mess that prevented him from passing through Australian customs to be resolved this Monday, and thus know if he can fight for his 21st major (he is tied at 20 with Nadal and Federer) From the 17th, in Melbourne, or you must catch a plane back after starring in a global scandal.

Meanwhile, the man who aspires to devour all the records held and for having of his sport awaits locked up in a hotel, with the medical exemption that a priori it should allow him to play under the arm, but without the access visa.

And there, from his window, he contemplates and listens to the two worlds of Djokovic, the two sounds: the tempest and the celestial music. “Stay strong, Novak“Says one of the banners held by his faithful, inviting him to resist and be” strong “while the storm lasts and until the court decides, waving the Serbian flag. “Djokovic can fuck off, free the refugees”Asks another one in the opposite direction, exhibited by those who understand that they can go to a very smelly place and that the show must end, and that the really important ones are the refugees of a political nature, and not a billionaire athlete of the first line who challenges the regulations that any citizen of the world must abide by. Whatever his name is.

A group of fans supports the tennis player outside the Park Hotel, in the city of Melbourne, where the Serbian remains after the revocation of his visa to enter AustraliaPhoto: JAMES ROSS (EFE) | Video: EPV

From end to end of the world, voices and more voices. Memes and more memes. Supporters and detractors. “Why is he not loved as much as Nadal and Federer? It’s the million dollar question… ”, says journalist Saša Ozmo from Belgrade, who has followed Nole’s footsteps for seven years and knows the ins and outs of the champion like few others.

Djokovic celebrates last year's title at Melbourne headquarters.
Djokovic celebrates last year’s title at Melbourne headquarters.KELLY DEFINA (REUTERS)

It refers to the eternal controversy surrounding the current king of the circuit. You know, controversies of all colors: from those mocking imitations of the teammates when he was in his twenties to his tricks to entangle some games, going through the rackets against the asphalt, the confrontations with the stands, the New York pitch to a judge of line that went around the globe two years ago or the Balkan tour that he mounted shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic and that was liquidated with a good number of infected, including him.

“To say that Novak is not loved is an exaggeration, because he has millions of followers around the world. Maybe Nadal and Federer are more beloved in the western part, but in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, he is as beloved as they are, ”says Ozmo.

“Nole is not afraid to speak”

“Perhaps in the middle of his career he was a little more diplomatic, but both in his first steps and now, he is not afraid to talk about many things,” continues the informant, who describes two of the three fundamental legs of the champion: father and team, wife and children apart. The father, speaker in hand these days and in front of the Serbian Parliament, defines Djokovic as “a Spartacus of the free world” and compares him to Jesus Christ, “to whom, like Novak, they did everything to him.” And regarding his circle, Nole has always spoken of “a family”, in all his expression.

“Srdjan [el progenitor] It has influenced him a lot, but not only on the track, but also off it ”, introduces Ozmo, who works for Sports Club. “He has not done him any favors with his statements in recent years, but he is a key figure for Djokovic and without him, Novak probably would not be who he is today. Unlike other parents who interfere in the coach’s task, he has let them guide the purely tennis part ”, he continues.

“They are a pineapple and Novak deeply appreciates their loyalty. Appreciate Goran’s advice [Ivanisevic, asesor] and there is Uly [Badio, el fisio], who was the last to arrive and was key in his rehabilitation [tras la operación en el codo derecho de 2017]; and then there’s marian [Vajda, su técnico de toda la vida], which is like the neighbor you go to have a beer with… They get along well both on and off the track and Novak, at this point, values ​​even more that good treatment off the track ”.

In Serbia, the matter has become a matter of state. Djokovic – Orthodox Christian, married to Jelena Ristic since 2014 and father of Stefan (7 years) and Tara (4) – has always proclaimed from the rooftops his love for his country and has spared no effort to compete with his national team despite let the extra load of matches saturate your schedule. Is his clique, a second home. Now it is a symbol of patriotic nationalism and from Spain he receives praise from the ranks of Vox for “not being afraid to distance himself from the herd” and for defending “freedom in the face of the health dictatorship”, among other dedications.

“We are a nation proud of its sport and he is one of our greatest athletes of all time. We have great athletes in basketball, volleyball, water polo… But globally, Djokovic is the most recognized. Other than that, he is highly valued here for his humanitarian work and the way he treats people on the streets. Of course, not everyone supports you; It is not a universal love, but I would say that most people do “, says Ozmo, who emphasizes the human face of Nole and tells how he was inspired by the autobiography Open, by Andre Agassi, to absorb all the knowledge that floats around him.

“Like any elite athlete, Novak has not had a conventional education, but he listens to everyone around him and learns. He has traveled extensively, has known many cultures and speaks English, French, Italian, German and a little Spanish. It is like an elephant ”, emphasizes the journalist. He also mentions yoga and meditation, that “alternative path” that Djokovic chose for a decade.

“Novak has made mistakes, of course, but he has also done many important things off the record: donations, humanitarian work … However, rarely do you see how he behaves with the rival or in press conferences when he has lost, or how is his relationship with the media or how he admits that a dubious ball of the rival has touched the line. I think coming from a country as small as Serbia, from the Eastern bloc… Tennis has always been a conservative and elitist sport, and for some people it is difficult to accept that he is so good ”, Ozmo continues.

  Srdjan, Djokovic's father, protests with a megaphone in front of the Serbian Parliament.
Srdjan, Djokovic’s father, protests with a megaphone in front of the Serbian Parliament.Darko Vojinovic (AP)

Djokovic has long established himself as a kind of Robin Hood who watches over the rights and finances of the most modest tennis players, those who struggle to survive with great difficulty in the demanding professional arena.

He first served as president of the ATP Players Council (the men’s circuit), from 2016 to 2020, but two years ago he announced by surprise the birth of the PTPA (Professional Tennis Players Association), in what was interpreted as a Subversive maneuver to defend the players in parallel, outside the guidelines of the main patronage. “A structure of self-government.” Thus he won the support of a significant group of professionals, especially those who subsist in the catacombs of the elite, while the other two great references, Nadal and Federer, appealed to “the union.”

The pulse reinforced his image as a rebel and put him back in the trigger, and the present returns to put him on trial. The noise continues. “I don’t think this could have long-term negative consequences. For someone who has survived the bombings and slept in metal beds, three nights in a Melbourne refugee hotel are not too damaging, ”resolves Ozmo; “I don’t think that’s the case, because Novak is able to motivate himself even more in the face of this kind of thing, but it is clear that the way the world is working today, with all the restrictions, it is going to run into tough obstacles.”

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