IT’S not overstatement to suggest there has been no build-up to a tennis Grand Slam quite like we saw last week.

Had the story around Novak Djokovic been that he was on the verge of surpassing Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer’s tally of 20 major titles, on which the trio are all tied, that would, in normal circumstances, have been incredible.

However, as few are unaware, there is far more to the build up to this month’s Australian Open, with entry to the country being denied, deportations threatened, protests on the streets and comparisons of Djokovic with Spartacus.

It has been a truly remarkable few days.

The saga of Djokovic’s participation in the Australian Open has long been in doubt; before a Covid vaccine had even been invented, the world No.1 expressed his scepticism.

His anti-vax status is, by now, well known and that, coupled with his refusal to disclose his vaccine status, led many to believe, rightly it turned out, that he was going to need a medical exemption, which is notoriously hard to get, to enter Australia.

However, when Djokovic posted a picture of himself on social media at an airport on Tuesday saying he was headed to Australia with “exemption permission”, it seemed the matter had been resolved.

There are few tweets that have ever aged quite as badly.

On Djokovic’s arrival, he was swiftly detained for, the Australian Border Force said, not having provided sufficient evidence for his medical exemption, despite the state authorities having granted it, and so he was, they said, to be deported.

Djokovic’s lawyers are appealing, having claimed yesterday he was granted the exemption because he had contracted Covid last month. But the 34-year-old remains in an apparently bug-infested quarantine hotel until his case is heard tomorrow.

Whatever the resolution though, the damage this has done to Djokovic and his reputation is immeasurable.

Already by far the least popular of the “Big Three”, the Serb has now ensured that whatever his final tally of Grand Slams, many, most even, will refuse to grant him status of greatest-ever.

What is particularly ironic about this is that the one thing Djokovic had so long desired but never received – love and appreciation from the fans – finally seemed to come his way on his last appearance at a Grand Slam.

In losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final of the US Open last September, and ending his bid to win all the Grand Slams in a calendar year, the American crowd showed the Serb a level of affection he had never received before.

His expectation of special treatment in Australia has now obliterated much of the goodwill.

It remains to be seen if Djokovic ends up taking the court at Melbourne Park when the Australian Open begins next week. It is looking increasingly unlikely.

Funnily enough though, the Australians’ militant treatment of Djokovic has ensured he has received more sympathy than seemed likely when he posted his tone-deaf message announcing his exemption.

The suggestion is that the Australian government is using the Serb for political gain and certainly, the fact that others have entered the country on similar grounds without ending up holed-up in a quarantine hotel suggests there is some kind of agenda at play.

Perhaps, though, Nadal put it best when he said “everybody is free to make their own decisions. But there are consequences”.

The consequences for Djokovic have ended up bigger than most could have imagined.

Whether he is able to play at any of this year’s Grand Slams remains to be seen.

What he has certainly done, though, is ensure he has become an even more divisive figure than he was a week ago.




t’s rarely welcome news when any athlete announces their retirement, but this week it was particularly sad to read the statement of Kash Farooq who revealed he is retiring from boxing at the age of only 26 due to “unforeseen circumstances”.

It was a completely unexpected development.

Following Farooq’s mighty battle with his compatriot, Lee McGregor, in 2019 for the British and Commonwealth titles, which McGregor won by a controversial split decision, a re-match was being touted as early as this spring.

The pair’s first fight was one of the best bouts seen between two Scottish fighters and the re-match was hotly anticipated.

That will, clearly, not happen now, and we will never know what Farooq could have done with his boundless talent.

Even in just a few years as a pro, the Glaswegian made history, becoming the first British-Pakistani boxer to win the Lonsdale belt outright when he first claimed it in 2018.

But more than that, Farooq is a gentleman. In a sport in which trash talking and disrespect is commonplace, Farooq never stooped to that level.

That McGregor swiftly reacted to Farooq’s announcement with a heartfelt response revealing his devastation says much about the pair and the respect between them.

Every person with an interest in Scottish boxing was intrigued not only to witness McGregor and Farooq’s re-match, but also to see how far the Glaswegian could go. A world title fight was certainly a possibility.

His legacy, however, will be not only as a hugely talented and successful fighter,
but more than that, he
was one of the good guys.