NOVAK DJOKOVIC is the hot favourite to make it Australia Open No.10 in January, despite the tennis world still being unaware whether the Serb will actually be allowed to participate in the competition.
The 34-year-old is the most successful player in the history of the event, his haul of championship successes ahead of Roger Federer and Aussie tennis legend Roy Emerson, both winning six titles. However, the insistence that no unvaccinated players will be allowed to compete has thrown the defending champion’s presence into doubt.
Djokovic has been very guarded about whether he has had the jab or not, and had highlighted his belief in people being allowed the ‘freedom of choice’. However, if he wants to play at Melbourne Park then he will have to reveal his medical status, with no-one allowed entry unless they’ve been vaccinated against Covid 19.
With the chance to move ahead of both Federer and Nadal on to 21 grand slam titles, reaching double figures in Aussie Open wins in the process, there is a clear attraction to play, especially with Federer still injured and Nadal on the comeback trail after a foot injury ruled him out of the US Open. If Nadal comes through a three-day exhibition event in Abu Dhabi this month unscathed, he is likely to target a warm-up tournament in Australia before heading to Melbourne.
Bookies have decided that if Djokovic is there then he is the player to beat, installing him as 6/4 favourite – bet £6 on the Serb and get £10 back if he wins with bet365 current welcome bonus in a free bet deal. Daniil Medvedev, who beat Djokovic in the US Open Final in September, is second favourite at 11/4, with Alex Zverev at 11/2.
The value may be further down the betting with former champion Nadal at 14/1, and up and coming Canadian star Felix Auger Aliassime available at 40/1 – Aliassime was beaten by Medvedev in the semi-final at Flushing Meadows.
At even longer odds you can get 80/1 on Andy Murray to defy his metal hip and claim a first Australian Open title; the Scot has lost five finals at Melbourne, four of those to Djokovic.
The focus, however, is on world No.1 Djokovic, and the Aussies clearly want the defending champion to line up come January, with tournament director Craig Tiley talking up the chance of the Serb making history.
“I know he wants to be here, he’d like nothing more,” said Tiley. “He doesn’t want to start the year without the opportunity to win all four Grand Slams – that’s enough motivation. So, the question is going to be: where is he at with his vaccination status?
“At the end of the day, you want to give everyone the best possible chance to get in, and to do it within the parameters which we can.”
And Tiley admitted: “Time is running out, and obviously you can get one vaccination – the Johnson & Johnson shot – but if you need a double vaccination, that window between the two vaccines is really closing.”
If Djokovic doesn’t make the event, and at present that appears a very strong possibility, then the smart money will be on either Medvedev or Zverev to claim a first Australian Open.
Medvedev will be looking to make it back-to-back slams after lifting the US Open title in September, and the world No.2 is seen as heir apparent to Djokovic at Melbourne. But he was beaten by Zverev in the recent ATP Finals event – the German’s first win over the Russian in two years – and the German will go into the Australian Open full of confidence.
Zverev, 24, has won six titles this year and an Olympics gold, but the drawback for the 24-year-old is that he is yet to win a grand slam. His best result is a beaten finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2020, going down in five sets to Dominic Thiem.