Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon looks forward at watching Djokovic compete again.
It was never really in doubt.
Novak Djokovic confirmed what pretty much everyone had already guessed would happen: that he would be coming back at the same time as the rest of men’s tennis this month, competing against the best players in the world—or at least, what’s left of them in these COVID-19 times.
In what was probably the least surprising news tidbit coming from this extended layout, especially on the heels of Rafael Nadal’s decision not to do it, which itself came after Roger Federer’s decision to call it quits for whatever was left of this cursed season, Djokovic announced on his website—in a little post written in the third person no less!—that he was set on crossing the pond and competing at the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.
The Serb said that, “It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited.”
Alright look, we’re as much a fan of the man as anyone else but what we’re not about to do here is to read through what’s essentially a full-on press release.
So yeah, Djokovic will be among those coming back when men’s tennis does in a week, and it’s not especially surprising that he is. This is the same man who, remember, put together an inconsequential and doomed-from-the-start exhibition event that no one asked for and that turned into essentially a cluster of contagion for COVID-19 when a number of players, including Djokovic himself, contracted the virus.
The temptation to see this decision as validation that Djokovic wants to catch up to his two rivals in the career Grand Slam titles race is high and it might even have played a role. It’s a golden opportunity after all and we can’t deny this; should Djokovic have withdrawn just because Nadal and Federer had before him? No of course not, that’s not how this works.
But if the decision to compete is so that he can avoid his two rivals and have an easier draw on his way to victory, that’s using faulty logic because Djokovic really hasn’t had that much trouble against his two rivals recently. If we may be blunt here, over the past decade he’s been excessively lethal against the pair on the sport’s biggest stages; rather, it’s been against other (read: lesser) players that he’s had difficulty. In that sense, Djokovic’s decision to compete this month has to be rooted in something beyond the mere desire to catch up to Nadal and Federer.
(An aside here: as a fairly big Djokovic homer, we will absolutely hope for him to win a fourth US Open title, and an 18th overall Grand Slam title to get one closer on the career leaderboard, in a few days. There are no asterisks or context with history—only trophies.)
Still, his decision is probably a fairly simple one (despite what he wrote on his press release). Djokovic is a tennis player who’s played tennis all his life and the sport he plays just happens to have a number of important and critical events coming up in a few days. The question isn’t whether he would compete or not, but why shouldn’t he do so. And after much thought, Djokovic is essentially saying that he hasn’t found a reason not to compete.
Maybe you think that they shouldn’t be having tennis tournaments at all, but that’s not the same thing as discussing whether Djokovic should compete in the tennis events that they are having. Djokovic, despite the insane power he yields as the current best player in the world and president of the ATP Player Council, is a mere man and not the governing body of the sport he competes in.
They shouldn’t be playing tennis this month, and yet they are. It’s only right for the Serb to be among those competing.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG