Alexander Zverev made a spirited defense of embattled world number one Novak Djokovic on Saturday (January 15), saying his legacy will not be tarnished by the visa saga which has rocked the tennis world ahead of the Australian Open.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne with a medical exemption from Australia’s requirement for visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 but had his visa canceled first on arrival and then again on Friday after he won a court case earlier in the week.
His hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open could be ended by the outcome of another court case on Sunday.
However, Zverev said Djokovic was still a towering figure in the sport.
“I don’t know what the perception around the fans is,” he told the media.
“I know that in the sport he’s still seen one of the greatest players because his achievements are not taken away. He still won 20 Grand Slams. He still has the most weeks as world number one. He still has the most Masters Series (titles). Still for me, one of the greatest players of all time. This is obviously not a nice thing for everyone, for him especially. But don’t question his legacy because of this.”
Should Djokovic be absent from a tournament he has won nine times it would boost the chances of players like Zverev, who have been knocking on the door at the Grand Slams for years.
Zverev named himself among contenders to watch at Melbourne Park, along with U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, and sixth seed Rafa Nadal, who is level with Djokovic and the absent Roger Federer on a record 20 Grand Slam titles.
“I have practised with Rafa, who I think is playing incredible right now again,” said Zverev of the Spaniard.
Zverev was wearing a T-shirt with German colors in a throwback to last year’s Olympic triumph in Tokyo where he won the singles gold, the proudest moment of his career.
He said the clothing gave him good vibes ahead of the Grand Slam.
“I did have the biggest victory, the biggest tournament in the world that I won in this gear. It brings back incredible memories,” he said.
“I just wanted to have that feeling before the tournament starts here.”
Winning his first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows last year showed Daniil Medvedev what he is capable of and the Russian world number two said on Saturday he will go into the tournament with much more confidence in his game.
Medvedev, who turns 26 next month, won his first Grand Slam title in September when he took down top-ranked Djokovic in straight sets at the U.S. Open.
“It gave me more confidence to any tournament that I played afterwards,” said the Russian as he gears up to play his first major as a Slam winner.
“Sometimes before the tournaments I could be a little bit concerned if I was not playing well, let’s say, two days before the tournament, I would lose a practice set, I would be concerned, a little bit nervous, sometimes angry.
“It did change this. Now I feel like I know even more what I can do, how I can play, what I have to do to play like this. I’m feeling much more confident than last year in terms of knowing my game, what I’m capable of.”
Medvedev began the 2022 season with a defeat to Frenchman Ugo Humbert at the team-based ATP Cup but bounced back strongly to beat his next three opponents, including world number seven Matteo Berrettini of Italy.
He made it to the final of last year’s Australian Open where he lost to Djokovic and the Russian could end up as the top draw at Melbourne Park with the Serb waiting for a court to decide if he should be deported after his visa was canceled.
“Even if Novak is in the draw, I can only see him in the final,” said Medvedev, who will open his campaign against Swiss Henri Laaksonen.
“At least, yeah, I need to win six matches before this. It would not change much my preparation for the tournament itself or for any match.”