It was the story that dominated the agenda ahead of this year’s Australian Open, but Rafael Nadal was the first to inject some perspective on a tale that became a global talking point.
Novak Djokovic deportation from Melbourne after his visa was cancelled by the Australian government, ending his hopes of defending his Australian Open title and claiming a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam, was a drama that went beyond tennis earlier this month.
While support for the unvaccinated Djokovic was limited from the rest of the players in Australia, old rival Nadal was among the more vocal as he suggested tennis will always be bigger than one player.
“There is no player in history who’s more important than an event,” declared Nadal, who has been a vocal supporter of the vaccination process as tennis looks to resume some kind of normality.
While Djokovic now looks set to resume his career by playing in Dubai next month, the question over whether the first major tournament of the year will have an asterisk against it because its defending champion is absent has been answered over the last two weeks.
Djokovic’s fans may not want to accept this reality, but the 2022 Australian Open has been one of the best Grand Slam events we have witnessed in recent years.
Thrilling matches in the men’s and women’s draw, wonderful storylines on and off the court, controversy and drama to keep us talking for weeks and months to come and all this without the world number one to add his brand of brilliance to the mix.
Similar questions were being asked of last year’s US Open as Roger Federer and Nadal were among the high profile absentees in New York, but that was another wonderful two weeks of tennis and now one big question has been firmly answered.
Life after the big three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic has been a point of concern for tennis authorities over recent years, with the brilliant trio dominating the sport to such an extent that it seemed there may be a void that could not be filled in their absence.
Yet the last two Grand Slams have proved that we don’t need to see one of the ‘Big Three’ lifting the trophy on the final day to have an event that takes tennis to the next level.
The golden era we have lived through with the three greatest players of all-time will never be forgotten, but those waiting to take their place as the stars of the game are giving us a new narrative that has the potential to be just as compelling.
Daniil Medvedev, Ashleigh Barty, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios have given us more than enough to enjoy over a summer festival of tennis in Melbourne to make us all forget about vaccine debates, revoked visas and the holes in Djokovic’s confusing story.
That Novak debate can resume another day, but for now, tennis is taking centre stage in glorious fashion