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Novak Djokovic needs to take the Covid-19 jab to stop Rafael Nadal from pulling away

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates winning a game during the men’s singles final against Daniil Medvedev of Russia at the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 30, 2022. EPA/Dave Hunt

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates winning a game during the men’s singles final against Daniil Medvedev of Russia at the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, January 30, 2022. EPA/Dave Hunt

Published Feb 6, 2022



THIRD time lucky in a five-set Melbourne final. Rafa Nadal had succumbed to Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, but not to Daniil Medvedev.

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There is no doubt Nadal’s mammoth feat in bagging his second Australian and 21st Grand Slam title will have woken “the sleeping giant”.

After an unconvincing 2021, in which he was beaten by Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo, Alexander Zverev in Madrid, Djokovic at Roland Garros and Lloyd Harris in Washington, the Spanish GOAT has once again discovered the addictive sweetness of success. According to coach Carlos Moya, Nadal wants more, much more.

It’s the equivalent of feeding Serena Williams aged 11, Curly fries and Snickers on demand, when lethargic and refusing to move mid a practice session. A satiated Serena would suddenly turn into a demon, demonstrating fancy footwork, whilst unleashing torpedos across the net at sister Venus.

Narrowly defeated Medvedev however, having faced a barrage of similarly lethal torpedos, will be departing Melbourne on a distinctly sour note, contemplating that worse still, being pipped at the post by Nadal, played into Djokovic’s hands: The latter’s No 1 ranking, under threat had the World No 2 won the Australian, remains intact. Djokovic will know that keeping Medvedev from pole position will be a whole lot less daunting, than chasing Nadal’s 21 titles, on clay.

The Serb was betting on defending his title in Australia, having found the necessary loopholes pertaining to the unvaccinated. Deportation was never on the cards, now stacked against him to the extent that his autobiographer, Daniel Muksch, reckons Djokovic will be forced to do a U-turn on the Covid jab, or forever see himself in Nadal’s rear view mirror.

ALSO READ: Tennis great Novak Djokovic can add anti-vax nitwit to his legacy

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At least the Serbian has been absolved of alleged PCR certificate fraud and will be motivated to enter the fray and do battle with Nadal in Indian Wells.

Meanwhile Roger Federer, post knee surgery, has been told by doctors to keep his foot on the brakes and to delay any competition until May.

The longer he waits the less chance he has of squaring up that elusive 21st Slam. Yet Federer and Djokovic can take cold comfort from the fact they respectively still hold six and nine Australian Open titles versus Nadal’s two.

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There have been other noteworthy winners and losers at this 2022 Slam: Italian No 1 Matteo Berrettini is the only top-10 player to rise in the rankings. He climbed two places to unseat Andrey Rublev in sixth spot, having reached the semis for the first time. Canadian, Dennis Shapovalov, also rose two places to No 12, after beating fourth seed Zverev and winning the ATP Cup.

The greatest leap up the ladder was by Danielle Collins, who at her maiden Slam final, moved 20 places into the top-10 to become the US’s highest ranked player, amongst a strong American lineup. Defending champion Naomi Osaka, however, plummeted 71 places to World No 85, after her shock loss to another aggressive American, Amanda Anisimova.

Rafael Nadal says 21 Grand Slam titles 'not enough'

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On the subject of fallen former No 1s: Andy Murray had high expectations for this first Slam, having progressed to the finals in Sydney, only to find himself sidelined by a qualifier and World No 120, Taro Daniel in Melbourne, hitherto a happy hunting ground. Thus he has resorted to firing his relatively new coach, Jan De Witt, emulating the ruthless rules of unanticipated defeat in British Premier League football.

Thus where are the top players heading in the build-up to Indian Wells? Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Zverev will be playing in Mexico.

Nadal is also contemplating Acapulco, a happy hunting ground, but otherwise taking a break until the Californian desert event, the most prestigious of Masters 1000 events. With the luxury of being able to pick and choose, life has become a box of chocolates.

Djokovic is heading for Dubai, together with Rublev, Shapovalov and Félix Auger Aliassime and will feel some reprieve in being nominated together with Medvedev as the Laureus Sportsman Of The Year.

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