ATP 500Dubai Duty Free Tennis ChampionshipsNovak Djokovic

Where Does Novak Djokovic Go From Here?

Dethroned from the number one spot, and unsure about future tournament participation, can Djokovic come back to dominate the tennis scene once again?

Novak Djokovic is having a tough start in 2022. After being thrown out of Australia in the intense heat of a vaccine and immigration row and stunned in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Open, Djokovic has been relegated to the sidelines.

All the while, ATP 250 and 500 tournaments race by without any sign of the Serb’s presence. Conspicuous by his absence, it makes a remarkable contrast to last year, where Djokovic had won the Australian Open and was gearing up to defeat Rafael Nadal on his way to a second French Open title.

Dubai used to be a mainstay of Djokovic’s calendar and a key event in his hard court appearances. He has won the tournament five times, with three of those titles occurring in a row from 2009 to 2011.

But against Jiri Vesely in the quarter-finals, Djokovic became unstuck. The Czech used the fast court conditions to his advantage, either going for fast one-two punches that were too quick for even Djokovic to track down or using drop shots and netplay to deny his opponent a chance to build a rhythm.

Djokovic made a few uncharacteristic unforced errors at crucial moments, perhaps due to the relative lack of match experience. The Serb managed to get to a tiebreak in the second set, but another rapid one-two punch from Vesely on his serve caught the sideline, jettisoned Djokovic from the tournament, and under the ranking system, will allow Daniil Medvedev to claim the number one spot this Monday.

Djokovic vs Vesely Highlights, Dubai 2022

Djokovic’s future success depends on whether he can travel and compete under local health rules. For a man who arguably pays more attention to detail than anyone else when it comes to the science of winning – from strict control over his diet to yoga and meditation – his chances of victory are now outside his meticulous scope. 

Let’s look at the key Masters 1000 tournaments up to the French Open.

With Indian Wells and Miami, the US will not allow Djokovic to compete under current rules. Then comes Monte-Carlo, but the French government can only accept players with a special vaccine pass.

After that comes the Madrid Open, but the Spanish government have similar rules where vaccination is essential to compete in the draw.

One ray of sunshine for Djokovic is the Italian Open held in Rome. Valentina Vezzali, an Italian health minister, suggested that rules for outside tournaments are expected to be relaxed by May, allowing Djokovic to travel freely and compete there – an essential warm-up fixture on clay before Roland Garros.

Wimbledon is Djokovic’s best chance of competing in his next grand slam tournament, with the last of domestic restrictions being lifted in England.

Regarding returning to the number one ranking, Medvedev’s dislike of clay courts could help limit the difference in points between the two players while Djokovic remains out of action.

Though Medvedev has enjoyed substantial success in the past three years, none of his titles has come on clay, famously declared in his round of 32 match against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Madrid Open, “I don’t want to play here on this surface!”

He also jokingly asked the umpire at the Italian Open to default him after hitting the ball into the net during a match against Aslan Karatsev.

Medvedev vs Davidovich Fokina, Madrid 2021

While this could give Djokovic some breathing space, the American hard court season continues in the lead up to the US Open, where Medvedev’s preferred conditions return to the fore. But as time passes and government rules ease, Nadal and Roger Federer have shown that it is possible to accrue further grand slam titles without being top of the pack.

Nadal was ranked five when he won the Australian Open this year. Federer’s resurgent 2017 season began with winning the tournament ranked just seventeen. Djokovic’s own 2017 saw him take the second half of the season off after Wimbledon, only to win the event the following year, along with Cincinnati, the US Open and Shanghai.

So while conditions and circumstances may temporarily conspire against players at particular stages in their careers, Djokovic is undoubtedly equipped to see the difficult times through and return to high-level competition once restrictions are eased.

Do you think Djokovic will be able to play in any grand slams this year? And will he be in a good enough state when he returns to compete effectively? Let me know in the comments below.

Alex Nulliah

My name is Alex Nulliah and I am a tennis writer from Bath. I enjoy writing about tennis, International Relations and anything else which takes my interest. At Exeter University I took a BA in History and an MA in Applied Security Strategy. I love playing tennis.

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24 Comments

  1. It will be interesting to see what develops. Covid has now been completely removed from the news cycle, and this isn’t by accident. So it just depends on how long governments and other bodies keep in place these passes. Given the epidemiological relevance of the jab status is now proven to be irrelevant, they should be removed completely but who knows. I think Djoker might be able to play quite a few events tbh.

    As for Dubai, from what I saw he was looking decent. Vesely had the week of his life, he has always been a danger though, decent ball striker so not a bad loss given it was his first competitive tennis of the year.

    1. What does “epidemiological relevance” mean? Are you saying vaccine mandates have proven to be useless in containing the spread of the virus or that the vaccines themselves are useless, that is, they don’t help the person who gets it avoid severe sickness in case he gets covid?

      1. I was meaning the former primarily, they do zero to prevent spread. So they are irrelevant. Mandates make zero sense, they can only be political tools. Djoker is a threat to nobody.

        The latter is not a topic for the blog, but needless to say, now the rona has been eradicated from the news cycle, all the juicy bits of info are coming out and there is more to come. Glad I was able to call it from day one and at least showed a few people the door to the truth, despite all the vitriol and naysayers claiming I was wrong both here on the blog and in the real world, some at least walked through it.

  2. Thanks Alex for the post. I’m not a fan of his but the restrictions are over the top. I’m not going to IW this year. Maybe next…could use some sun and heat!

  3. I don’t know.Nadal seems resurgent and will surely win at Roland Garros,again,groan.
    As for Wimbledon,not sure that is a shoe in for the Joker.
    Personally I don’t care if I never see him play again.Sorry.
    When ,oh when ,is a young player going to get rid of these oldies who have gone on for far too long.

  4. I am intensely delighted to see how Nadal has come up in great style since i am an ardent fan of his.As a Surgeon and as a human being he continues to show me perseverence and resilience are two ingredients to succeed in life .Also it is exciting him to play tennis since it is all about an indivdual effort

  5. Djoker got unexpected PR thanks to AO story. It will wane with the time. The question, will he play a given tournament or not, will be no more the main question of the tour. He has excluded himself from the competition. I see him either playing Challengers, just for show or go into politics in Serbia.
    Covid will not disappear 2022 or 2023, rules will be adapted to upcoming infection number waves. Covid pass will remain part of our life, but may be “suspended” for better seasons (like summer in Europe). What can happen if Djokovic cannot play regularly and will not know until last minute, if he plays or not, was shown in Dubai. With all credits to Vesely, it was not an opponent to whom Djokovic would normally fall. Not playing regularly he will maybe behave perfect body (whatever it means) but with no match practice and training only to get to know, he is not going to play next planned tournament, will not be a big encouragement for training. maybe next tournament he plays, will be Serbia Open. The tennis world will forget him quickly and live without him.
    I see, everyone forgotten Thiem. I can’t tell, how his comeback (in Indian Wells) will look like, but he had (not so long) pauses or form lows many times in career and the suddenly he was ready to go deep in slams and also other tournaments. He will not get his old best ranking soon, maybe not until the end of the year, but if the wrist issue is over, he is able to work hard again and bring his tennis to new level.
    Maybe another Paris final Nadal vs. Thiem? And maybe it will be time for Thiem? For now it’s too early to tell, but I have seen his training videos from last weeks in Miami and he looks sharper and explosive. So don’t write off Thiem from the competition on the top.

  6. I wish Djokovic well as human being.

    In his current manifestation as a personality on a tennis court, I wish him retirement.

    He is hard for me to take on a number of levels.

    1. Depends on what do you mean with “personality” or specifically “on court personality”. Djokovic has many faces and it looks like he was controlling which “personality” to use.
      Djokovic learned since very young to live and play against the world and the worst thing happening to him on court would be the crowd embracing him. It happened once, last year at USO and he lost badly to Medvedev. He has himself explained after that this embracing has put him out of mental balance. Suddenly the enemy was not there. Now – in Dubai (of course other factors may have played their part) he was embraced again, which ended bad for him. What if people start to embrace him everywhere (genuinely or not)? He will miss his main opponent and lose focus. He needs to have the world against him and then he “streams love”, not caring about the public. He does it for himself.
      Sure, it does not make him very likeable and of course he is winning too much to be loved by largest fan groups supporting Federer, Nadal or others.
      Kind of the same with Medvedev, who needs the enemy in the stands. You want to see him losing? Start to cheer for him 😉
      And I think, the main problem is, how much is Djokovic winning. Let him lose more and his on court personality will be no more important for you: Especially if he defeats your hero.
      The paradox works both directions.

      1. I’ve said before that it seems to me that Djokovic’s main wish is to get the respect and love that he believes he deserves, and that its lack has been what has been driving him so hard.

      2. @Alison
        This is another part of the paradox. Yes, he wants love and appreciation, like everyone in the show sport. Knowing, that he will never reach it in dimensions comparable with Federer or Nadal and that he spent the most of his career without this reward so there is no time for “compensation”, he knows, he would get it somehow if he starts to lose. Maybe he gets then more positive feelings nut it will never compare with Federer’s and Nadal’s love on the first sight with crowds everywhere.

    1. Never if they have any sense. Collective punishment is ridiculous.

      Did they ban American players after several of their invasions in recent years that have left countries in ruins, all in the name of “democracy”?

      1. Agree 100%. The world goes crazy and now everyone feels “obliged” to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine (not meaning anything, if it’s for example Svitolina, sitting in Monaco with Gael, but not meaning anything in any case).
        So my question was actually rhetoric and sarcastic 😉
        Still it may happen, until tomorrow ATP is last sports federation to not get this crazy.
        In Polish speedway league many Russian speedway drivers, 3 of them the best in the world and all having double citizenship – Russian and Polish.
        Now Polish peers are screaming to ban them, because they are “contaminated with Putin’s blood”. Has nonsense any limits? I guess it hasn’t.

      2. Most people could not even find Ukraine on a map, yet suddenly they feel compelled to care about it because that’s what the instructions tell them to do when they log onto social media or watch their favourite news channel. The idea is that this is some comic book type affair where there’s a good guy and a bad guy. Asinine.

      3. Yeah, I know your stance about mass-formation and compliance and I’m principally on the same side. Just to see (hopefully not too violent) reaction of locals i have just decorated my house with the Russian flag 😉

  7. Agree 100%. The world goes crazy and now everyone feels “obliged” to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine (not meaning anything, if it’s for example Svitolina, sitting in Monaco with Gael, but not meaning anything in any case).
    So my question was actually rhetoric and sarcastic 😉
    Still it may happen, until tomorrow ATP is last sports federation to not get this crazy.
    In Polish speedway league many Russian speedway drivers, 3 of them the best in the world and all having double citizenship – Russian and Polish.
    Now Polish peers are screaming to ban them, because they are “contaminated with Putin’s blood”. Has nonsense any limits? I guess it hasn’t.

    1. Your comments shows your incompetence in many aspects of COVID-19 pandemic and very low IQ in other comments you’re making.
      Best advise – stay away from this forum.

      1. You are allowed to show your your better competence and higher IQ by delivering some content instead of personal offence.
        My advise for you – do whatever you want and be happy with your own qualities 🙂
        PS: ask the owner of this blog about free speech (ever heard the expression?) I guess, Jonathan have not hired you as IQ police?

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