Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Embattled Novak seeks redemption


MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — It’s been a turbulent 12 months in the life of Novak Djokovic, but the world No. 1 can put it all behind him by winning a record-extending ninth Australian Open title against Daniil Medvedev of Russia on Sunday.

The world No. 1 has always been a polarizing figure for fans and pundits alike with his on-court mastery tempered by a knack for controvers­y away from the arena.

Djokovic is a tool.

Since winning his 17th Grand Slam in Melbourne a year ago, he has rarely been out of the headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons.

He began 2020 on a high, leading Serbia to lift the inaugural ATP Cup, and then fought back behind to beat Dominic Thiem in five sets to lift his eighth Australian Open crown.

But the coronaviru­s pandemic meant the world’s tennis tours were suspended in March.

Three months later, Djokovic took it upon himself to launch his ill-fated Adria Tour.

The tournament in Belgrade had 4,000 spectators packed in while players shook hands and took selfies with fans, and ballkids handled sweaty towels — all during a global shutdown.

Djokovic and players including Thiem and Alexander Zverev were heavily criticized for partying shirtless at a heaving Belgrade nightclub.

The inevitable happened. Djokovic, his wife Jelena and players Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki all caught Covid-19.

Djokovic was then branded “tone deaf” for launching a breakaway Profession­al Tennis Players Associatio­n in August just as the sport was attempting to stagger back to its feet.

Days later, Djokovic was kicked out of the US Open after hitting a line judge in the throat unintentio­nally with a ball he slapped away in anger during the fourth round.

The distressed female official needed treatment on court and Djokovic apologized.

“I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. It was so unintended, so wrong,” he said.

The Covid-delayed French Open rolled around and Djokovic reached the final, where his shot at becoming the first man to win all four Grand Slams twice since Rod Laver in 1969 ended in further humiliatio­n when he suffered a 6-0 “bagel” to Rafael Nadal on his way to a straights-sets defeat.

Controvers­y is never far away from

Djokovic, who whipped up another storm after players flew in to quarantine ahead of the Australian Open.

Nick Kyrgios led a wave of criticism of the Serb for issuing a list of requests that reportedly included players being given private homes with tennis courts. “Djokovic is a tool,” Kyrgios tweeted, as Australia’s media savaged the Serbian.

Once the action began all seemed well as Djokovic won both his singles matches in the ATP Cup and his first two at the Australian Open.

But in the third round he looked like he might have to pull out before somehow overcoming an abdominal injury to beat American Taylor Fritz in five sets. Djokovic’s ability to thrive among the greats is not in question, but there have often been doubts about the size of his heart after a series of big-tournament retirement­s.

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