The verdict is out as expected. And sadly, none is the winner here with fans being the ultimate and sore loser in this entire fiasco between US Open and Novak Djokovic. Critics question and purists are dismayed over the absence of last year’s US Open finalist from the Flushing Meadows. Same fate ensued in the Australian Open earlier this year where Djokovic who spent the highest number of weeks on the top of the ATP ranking charts had a fierce showdown with Australian Government vaccine policy for Covid-19.
For Djokovic, history will repeat like the first Grand Slam, albeit less acrimoniously as the Serbian Scud decided to gracefully step aside. In a statement Novak issued read “Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for the US Open. Thank You #NoleFam for your messages of love and support. Good Luck to my fellow players….”.
The tennis legends are divided. While Martina Navratilova is on one end of the spectrum, John McEnroe and Mats Wilander, legends from the 80s are on opposite ends. «No, I don›t think it›s fair,» four-time US Open winner McEnroe told Eurosport ahead of the final Grand Slam of the season.” I think it›s a joke”.
While Wilander calls “the race for GOAT between top three is irrelevant as Djokovic is not allowed to play freely anymore.”. Critics argue Djokovic’s ostracisation from Grand Slams has little to do with tennis. Novak freely played in last year’s edition but this year he has been barred from participating for skipping the vaccine. Even though Covid risks are substantially lower currently, the vaccine is further out of date, and he’s recovered from infection last year. Today it appears tennis is about “obedience” towards the higher echelons of the game. Starting from “the land of the free”. The decision to not get vaccinated comes in with grave consequences. The scars of the Australian Open are still fresh and US Open denial is rubbing further salt on Djokovic’s injury.
Instead, critics argue, the greatest Serbian tennis player wasn›t banned from the US Open. This entry rule has been in place since last year and the 21-time Grand Slam winner has been treated like any other non-citizen. The same policy exists for entry to Canada. In favour of Djokovic stands an important argument, by John McEnroe who calls the entire process a “joke” as vaccine mandates do not make any sense now.
The entire saga has three camouflaged yet significant points to ponder over. A new sponsor, the discretion of US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster and her take on the policy. Vocal fan base called #NoleFam consisted of few Indian origins who take on trollers for Serbian champ.
An interesting twist to the tale is this year, pharmaceutical giant Moderna is sponsoring the US Open. Moderna is a globally well-known name as Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers.
The company will splash digital advertisements throughout the stadium. The blitzkrieg features the greatest tennis player Billie Jean King as the Brand Ambassador of the entire media campaign. Moderna has a different tale to tell. According to company officials “Moderna’s efforts to reach people where they are, the time of year coincided with the start of booster shot season and the approach of Omicron-specific Covid-19 booster shots”.
The silence from fellow compatriots is deafening. Few have spoken and most have steered away from the vaccine issue. However, the tournament director of US Open – Stacey Allaster who in the past has been associated with the company that has Roger Federer backed Laver Cup. Previously, under TDS discretion and plea unvaccinated players exemption was sought in 2020 and 2021. Not this year.
This led to fans› outrage on social media where Djokovic fans were dismayed, understandably so. There is a sense of injustice and victimisation. Djokovic has been unable to play in two Grand Slams this year and he didn’t get ranking points for the Grand Slam that he won.
Among the other players who will be missing from the U.S. Open for various reasons are No. 2-ranked Alexander Zverev, the 2020 runner-up in New York; 2016 champion Angelique Kerber; 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova; Gael Monfils and Reilly Opelka.
The announcement of Djokovic had an interesting second point. “Thank you #NoleFam for your messages of love and support”. This is the first time in the open era a top ranked professional player is addressing, acknowledging and thanking his fan gang via crucial announcement.
So what is Nolefam?
Nolefam is the community of ordinary fans trying to enjoy a sport they love through their favorite player—Novak Djokovic. The term is a decade old and coined by a fan.
The fan gang comprises of Julie – a French teacher in London – Puneet Bhandal a mother of three and a London based author. The bond is so strong that their “meetups” during Wimbledon are a social media rage. The highlight of the gang’s career was that they were at players box at Wimbledon Final as the most vociferous fans. “Watching Novak lift the trophy from players box was surreal experience. This recognition is what fans live for and we are proud that despite our diverse background Djokovic family admires our effort”.
Bhandal “Yes we have to fight lies, wrong narratives & abuses and we do a good job of it.” Pavvy Gill is another Indian origin fan who took on legendary Navratilova on twitter in the current US Open saga. Bhandal who briefly spent her early years in India feels “started as a Borg fan, then graduated to Federer and now it is been Novak since last ten years. It is frustrating to see even media has become trollers and we have to put up with all inconsequential stuff”.
Bhandal further adds “Tennis is not a simple game it used to be with commercial rights, power struggle and race to protect individual records and legacy. But we tennis fans fight for simple pleasures of game, our chosen player and intense game on tennis court and not courtroom (Chukles)”.
The author is founder of Indian Sports Fan.