Djokovic is currently being detained at the Park Hotel in Melbourne awaiting a hearing on Monday in which his lawyers will argue his visa was wrongly cancelled by Australian Border Force (ABF) earlier this week.
The world No 1 had claimed a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination mandate for overseas arrivals, but found ABF unwilling to accept it and now faces a nervous wait to see if he will be allowed to defend his Australian Open title in the first grand slam of the year, which starts a week on Monday.
If he is absent, it will open the door for the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas to win in Melbourne for the first time, but three-time Australian Open champion Mats Wilander does not think they would want to win the tournament against a weakened field.
“I think the players want him to come,” Eurosport pundit Wilander tells i.
“It would be different if he were injured, but he’s healthy. He’s there. He’s ready.
“I don’t think that the intimidation factor with Novak Djokovic is quite as high for the other players as it used to be because of Medvedev at the US Open because of Tsitsipas having two sets to love against Novak [in the French Open final].”
Djokovic won three out of four grand slams in 2021, beating Medvedev in Australia, Tsitsipas in Paris and Italy’s Matteo Berrettini at Wimbledon to top a remarkable year.
But the 20-time major winner should not be underestimated.
“Players very easily forget that he should have won all four majors. They’re looking at matches that he lost and [think] he can be beaten,” Wilander added.
“So I really think that most players want him to get through, into the country. They are looking at beating him because if he doesn’t play then that’s going to be another story for the player that does win to have to answer to.”
Djokovic will be the talk of the tournament when it gets underway, no matter what his status; he is still a clear 9-4 favourite to win it, meaning bookmakers judge him to have around a 35 per cent probability of winning before a ball has even been struck.
That is also with his preparation interrupted by five days of detention, disturbed sleep and, most crucial, a lack of hitting facilities – although Wilander reckons it won’t impact him too much.
“Normally it wouldn’t be enough time to prepare for a grand slam for sure,” he said.
“We have to always look at who the players are that do well at the Australian Open and then obviously Novak is the one that comes to mind.
“It means that his pre-season is extremely serious. He has figured out the formula in his preseason and he doesn’t lose confidence even though he doesn’t play any meaningful matches for a month and a half.
“You just need your level to be high and then you’re a tough person to beat – and Novak is a tough person to beat, whether he has confidence or not.”
Mats Wilander will feature as a Eurosport pundit for their upcoming coverage of the Australian Open