In McNamee’s view, “if Novak was going to be kicked out, the time to do it was before the draw.”
Grand Slam draws certainly have been revised before. Andy Murray, initially seeded second at the 2017 U.S. Open, withdrew with a hip injury after the draw had been completed.
The Novak Djokovic Standoff With Australia
But nobody in 2017 was questioning Murray’s right to compete. Djokovic is in a more delicate position, in part because some of his peers reluctantly agreed to be vaccinated, to respect the Australian Open mandate that no player would be allowed to compete without the inoculation or without clearing the high bar for a medical exemption.
Marton Fucsovics, Hungary’s top men’s player, was the first prominent singles player to speak out, maintaining that Djokovic should not be in Melbourne and that “there are rules that were outlined months ago.”
Stine, the coach, said some other players were in agreement.
“For sure, he’s been playing by his own rules,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the world’s fourth-ranked player. Tsitsipas described Djokovic’s strategy of sticking to his anti-vaccination stance as “daring,” and added that it made the majority of players who have complied with the vaccine requirement “look like fools.”
Stine said there was also concern that Tennis Australia and Craig Tiley, its chief executive, had gone too far in their support of Djokovic, even though his application for a vaccination exemption was assessed by an independent medical board.
“Obviously Tennis Australia and Craig Tiley, they want Djokovic here competing, it’s good for their event,” Stine said. “I think Craig has gone out of his way to try and help Novak in every way he possibly can to make sure he gets into the country, and in the end it then looks like he’s receiving special treatment. And I don’t like that in our sport no matter what. Nobody should be receiving special treatment. That’s what sport is about.”
The reality is that the tennis elite, like many other superstars in sports, do receive special treatment: preferential scheduling, access to the main courts and other creature comforts. Tiley, eager to bolster the Australian Open, has spoken openly about the need to keep the stars content. But he was not speaking openly on Thursday, declining a request to answer questions from the media after the men’s draw was complete.