When Will Novak Djokovic Play in another Grand Slam?

WIMBLEDON, England — After one golden Sunday at Wimbledon came one quirky Monday in tennis, with the forecast calling for one weird balance of the summer.

Novak Djokovic became that unprecedented player to win Wimbledon and then fall four slots in the rankings — from No. 3 to No. 7 in his case — because the ATP Tour did not award rankings points for this Wimbledon because of Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players, which Wimbledon enacted because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Then Djokovic looked ahead to August and the U.S. Open and reckoned he probably won’t get to play even though he isn’t injured.

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“Yeah, I mean, I’m not vaccinated, and I’m not planning to get vaccinated, so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card — or whatever you call it — to enter United States, or exemption,” he said Sunday. “I don’t know. I don’t think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don’t know what exemption would be about. I don’t know. I don’t have much answer there. I think it’s just whether or not they remove this in time for me to get to U.S.A.”

How irregular, all of it.
As of a proclamation from President Biden and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 25 — some six weeks after Djokovic finished second at the 2021 U.S. Open — the United States requires proof of vaccination against the coronavirus for nonimmigrant noncitizens to enter the country. Djokovic restated just before Wimbledon his decision to remain unvaccinated, even while he has not extended that decision into any crusade about other people. The U.S. Open, which celebrated Djokovic’s feat Sunday in a series of tweets, will strive to avoid the confusion of the Australian Open of January, when Djokovic entered that country thinking he could play, remained in quarantine and in court hearings for 11 days, then departed as deported.

He spent various moments at Wimbledon, including Sunday, describing how that kerfuffle addled him through ensuing months, derailing temporarily his sense of self on the court. His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, said Sunday: “Was shock for me, and I was there. I was free. Imagine for him.”

From there, Ivanisevic said, the schedule went clouded with enough uncertainty that, in the case of the United States, the apparent certainty does help. “I mean, if you say three, four weeks before French Open, he was not allowed to play French Open [which ultimately changed], and you cannot make a schedule because one country changes the rules,” Ivanisevic said. “Now you can enter; now you cannot enter. We cannot make any schedule. We practice, but we don’t know for what we are practicing. It was not easy. Now it’s better. You know where you can go, where you cannot go. It’s more easier.”

In a normal year, 2019 and before, Djokovic would have landed in North America a few weeks from now, intending to start the hard-court binge in the U.S. Open run-up tournaments in Canada and near Cincinnati. He played Cincinnati every year from 2005 to 2019 except 2016 and 2017 (injury). He played Canada, which alternates between Toronto and Montreal, every year between 2007 and 2018 except 2017 (injury). He has played every U.S. Open except 2017 (injury) since debuting in 2005, with three titles and six other appearances in finals.

Now, just as the history of women’s tennis went misshapen in 1993 for an unforeseeable outside cause — a deranged fan of Steffi Graf stabbing the rival, Monica Seles, who had surpassed Graf to No. 1 — the history of men’s tennis may go twisted with a pandemic and with a vaccination decision by a man with a Monte Carlo restaurant full of wildly healthy food and a famous fanaticism about what he allows into his body. Rafael Nadal leads Djokovic, 22-21, in Grand Slam titles even as those numbers might stand transposed had the nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic gotten to play the 2022 event, which Nadal won.

Now: “I am on vacation,” Djokovic said Sunday night. “Whether or not I’m playing any tournament soon, I’ll definitely be resting for the next couple weeks because it has been quite an exhausting and demanding period for me the last few months. A lot of tennis, which I was very happy about. I got what I wanted here. Then I’ll wait hopefully for some good news from U.S.A. because I would really love to go there. That would be probably the next big tournament, the next big swing, playing a tournament or two before U.S. Open and U.S. Open. If that doesn’t happen, then I have to see what the schedule will look like.”

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He does know he doesn’t figure to chase rankings points anywhere, largely because of his satisfaction with already having reached the record for time at No. 1, at 373 weeks to 310 for second-place Roger Federer.
And his coach: “Today my holiday started,” Ivanisevic said. “My vacation, deserve it. I go back home [to Croatia]. It’s a nice summer. Beautiful. If he goes to States, it’s going to be beautiful. If he don’t go to States, what can we do? It’s [other] tournaments. We’ll see. A lot of crazy things happening in the world. It’s come every day something is changing, something new. We see what’s going to happen. Still we have, what, one-and-a-half months. Anything [can] happen or not happen.”

He said: “There is one movie back home, is a ‘Long, Hot Summer.’ This is going to be for me a long, hot summer vacation. I going to have vacation from today. I don’t know till when. I don’t know. Maybe Biden will change his mind.”
All the while, Djokovic reached 35 in May, even if it’s an unusually robust 35, and if he can’t play the U.S. Open or the 2023 Australian Open because of vaccination status, he might not see another Grand Slam event until right after his 36th birthday, at the 2023 French Open.

The clock ticks, if maybe not as rapidly for him.
“I don’t feel I’m in rush really anywhere to end my career in a year time or two years time or whatever it is,” he said. “Just not thinking about it. I want to keep my body healthy because that’s obviously necessary in order to keep going at this level. Of course, keep myself mentally sane and motivated to compete with the young guns.”

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