When Novak Djokovic returned to Rod Laver arena to win his 22nd grand slam title, tying the men’s record with Rafael Nadal, audiences around the world were once again reminded of his unprecedented talent. While Djokovic has long remained a dominant force on the men’s singles tennis circuit, he was largely absent for the 2022 season after regulations around Covid-19 vaccination meant he was unable to travel and largely barred from entering various tournaments, including the 2022 Australian Open.
But to see Djokovic on court once again was to be reminded of the rare and extraordinary talent of a man who seemingly has no flaws in his game. With a mental resilience that is unmatched and the kind of groundstrokes that can force opponents off the court with ease, even Djokovic’s defensive game is resplendent, allowing him to return impossible-to-return-shots with power.
While it certainly was a kick for audiences to see Djokovic playing once again, it seems the tennis star is now determined to cemented his status as one of the greatest of all times – and perhaps even eclipse Nadal’s record grand slams in the process. The Serbian star is now asking American authorities for special permission to enter the United States to play tournaments in California and Florida, despite being unvaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, the requirement for foreign air travellers is to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least until mid-April. Indian Wells will be played from 6-19 March, before the Miami Open takes place from 20 March – 2 April. Speaking of his preparation for the tournaments, Djokovic said: “Everything is currently in the process. I have a big desire to be there.”
“I am really thankful to the Indian Wells and Miami tournament [officials] and community for their support publicly and they would like me to be able to play in their tournaments,” he added.
Eyeing his return to US courts, Djokovic reflected on who is competition currently is in the sport. And though he was quick to name Nadal, it was 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz who Djokovic said was at the top of his game – and the rankings – before a leg injury prevented him from playing at the Australian Open.
“[Alcaraz] is arguably the next biggest thing in our sport, or he’s already there,” said Djokovic. “I just feel that the rivalry with Nadal is something that is difficult to eliminate. Nadal has been the biggest rival and he probably will remain the biggest rival I ever had in my career.”
Most recently, Djokovic’s long-standing reign of dominance in tennis has seen him amass another accolade, besting German great Steffi Graff’s time at the top of the world rankings with 377 weeks. “Obviously, Steffi Graf is one of the biggest legends of our sport…and someone that I truly admire and respect,” said Djokovic.
“So, of course, it’s very flattering that I am able to equal her record and obviously have a possibility to break it as well the next week.”