Novak Djokovic withdraws from the US Open. He is unvaccinated against Covid-19 and not allowed to receive a visa and enter the country. “It is a tragedy,” said the Swiss sports minister, who confirmed that the authorities had been informed of his situation.
And yet, there he was, waiting for his flight to Miami. His life, for now, was over. For three years he had been the best tennis player in the world. No longer. He was about to be removed from the world as well as from the scene of his best tennis.
Why? Because someone didn’t want him to be the best. Because he had done a number on them. Because he had offended the tennis authorities and was a threat. And because, even for me, when I see a tennis match in progress, the match itself seems somehow irrelevant, and the players on either side seem to be there more in an effort to contain the feelings generated by that match than as performers, at least to me.
I never watched Djokovic play. But I have watched almost every match that he has played since the start of his career, in his first year as a teenager, on his way to becoming the most dominant player in the history of tennis. He was never the greatest player ever, but he was unquestionably the best player he would ever be. He was the best No. 1 tennis player ever after the age of 22, and the best No. 1 tennis player ever to reach the top 100 after the age of 30. No young man played as hard and as fast as he did for 22 years. No young man ever dominated the sport and the culture as he did. And yet, it was the tennis authorities – not just some random bureaucrat in a basement – that did end his career.
It’s worth remembering that at its start, the sport of tennis – and indeed the entire sports landscape – was dominated by two