The Australian Open Tennis Tournament Serves up Vaccine Controversy and Great Competition


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Nadal on his way to a record 21st Grand Slam victory.

The Australian Open, which dramatically concluded early Sunday morning in the United States, was full of excitement and heartbreak. Even before the tournament started, controversy between tennis-star Novak Djokovic and the Australian government put the Grand Slam in the news. The tournament finished with a five-set stunner between veteran player Rafael Nadal, commonly known as “Rafa,” and Russian wonder, Daniil Medvedev. Women’s singles concluded with a tough-fought match between Australian No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty, and a surprise appearance from 27th-seed American, Danielle Collins.
In the weeks leading up to the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seed before the tournament, met controversy and conflict relating to his vaccination status. While the tournament officially required all competitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with national policy, organizers were permitted to grant exemptions to players under special circumstances. The Serbian tennis player initially received an exemption, claiming that already contracting the disease excluded him from the mandate. Once Djovokic arrived in Australia, however, he was detained for issues relating to his visa paperwork, especially discrepancies in his COVID contraction information. A border official then ruled that Djokovic did not meet the medical exemption requirements from the vaccine mandate and subsequently canceled his visa. Although the Djokovic team fought to appeal the decision, the Australian government upheld their initial judgement, and Novak was forced to depart from the country. His roadblocks in Australia are likely to be only the beginning of Djokovic’s troubles in professional tennis, with country restrictions likely to impede his entry in future tournaments. Rumors of him relenting to get the vaccine are floating around, as he considers choosing his career over his concerns.
Despite Djokovic being unable to defend his nine-time title and win a record-breaking 21 Grand Slams, the Australian Open remained an eventful couple of weeks. Mixed doubles ended in a straightforward 6-3,6-4 closeout for the No. 5 seed European team of Kristina Mladenovic and Ivan Dodig against the all-Australian team of Jaimee Fourlis and Jason Kubler. In women’s doubles, despite the valiant efforts of the unseeded team of Kazakhstan’s Anna Danilina and Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, the all-Czech team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova took the victory with two sets to one. The first all-Australian men’s doubles final at the Australian Open since 1980, meanwhile, was an entertaining display of the players’ skill and creativity. The team of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis beat Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell in a 7-5, 6-4 match. Nick Kyrgios, known for his brief displays of exceptional talent, gained his first-ever Grand Slam title with the victory, a big moment for him and fans of his.
While the doubles matches provided plenty of competition by themselves, much of the attention was focused on the men and women’s singles events. Australian No. 1 seed Ashleigh “Ash” Barty displayed her extraordinary talent in her 6-3, 7-6 victory over Danielle Collins. The match seemed likely to go to a third set with Collins up by two breaks in the second set, but Barty’s resilient comeback guaranteed her victory after a tiebreak.
Much like Barty, Nadal made a historic comeback in the men’s singles final. Medvedev, the favorite in the match by some margin, seemed sure of victory after two well-fought sets of tennis. Nadal, lacking practice and struggling with injury prior to the tournament, began what seemed like a last-ditch effort at a turnaround in the third set. He then did the unbelievable by completing his comeback against the No. 2 seed, 2-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. Nadal’s victory guaranteed him a 21 Grand Slam titles to beat out Djokovic and Roger Federer in a surprising turn of events.
Djokovic and Medvedev, two players often out of the fans’ favor despite their skill, both met unfortunate endings with the tournament. Djokovic’s rather-preventable misfortune at the Australian Open is sure not to be the only issue he has. Other Grand Slams, such as the upcoming French Open, may have similar barriers for the Serbian unless he relents. Medvedev meanwhile, while acknowledging Nadal’s grit and great play, said in an emotional press conference that “the kid stopped dreaming,” in reference to himself. The statement seemed to come not in response to his loss but to poor treatment from fans towards him during the match, which he called “disappointing” and “disrespectful.” Later in the press conference he cited a history of mistreatment, saying, “Everytime I stepped onto the court in [those] big matches, I really didn’t see [many] people who wanted me to win.”
From landmark victories and great performances to heartbreak and heated matches, the Australian Open this year has earned itself a place as one of the more memorable Grand Slams in recent years. All of the players involved deserve praise for making the tournament as entertaining as it was, and the tennis community awaits the next Grand Slam in May and the drama it is sure to bring with it.