Aus Open | No longer the ‘Happy Slam’

L’affaire Djokovic, missing stars cloud the event

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant, no Serena Williams or Roger Federer and now the Novak Djokovic saga — the Australian Open is struggling to live up to its ‘Happy Slam’ reputation.

With the tournament just 10 days away, there was the threat on Friday of more disarray with the possibility of other players being in a similar predicament to the World No. 1.

The vaccine-sceptic Djokovic, the Australian Open defending champion, was detained on arrival in the country this week, his visa cancelled for failing to meet tough coronavirus pandemic entry restrictions.

The 34-year-old Serb is now in a Melbourne immigration detention facility and fighting deportation.

Two other players or staff attending the Open are also now being investigated, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

Tennis Australia, which organises the first Grand Slam of the year, is in the spotlight for its role in the debacle having been part of the process that got Djokovic a medical exemption from having a COVID jab.

An online analysis piece by national broadcaster ABC said that the Open “is in chaos with arguably the tournament’s biggest drawcard on the men’s side in limbo and the decision-making of organisers and government under intense scrutiny”.

The Australian Open is known as the ‘Happy Slam’ for its perfect weather, bumper crowds and party atmosphere at Melbourne Park, which sits beside the banks of the Yarra River.

But like at all major sports events since the coronavirus emerged, the pandemic has come calling.

Last year’s Australian Open was thrown into doubt by COVID and eventually started three weeks late before fans were barred mid-tournament when authorities ordered a snap lockdown across Victoria state.

This year was supposed to be different with the vaccines, but then came Omicron and infection numbers rising fast in Australia and beyond.

Nadal present, but…

Even if Djokovic does go on to defend his title, the tournament will still be missing some star power.

Federer, who also has 20 Slam titles, will not be there as he battles to recover from a knee injury. Also absent will be American Williams, who is managing her workload into the twilight of another of tennis’ great careers.

Rafael Nadal will be there, having recently been “very sick” with COVID, but it remains to be seen if he can compete at his devastating best.

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