'All-in gamble': Could we see heads roll over Novak Djokovic fiasco?

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Novak Djokovic (pictured right) with TA boss Craig Tiley (pictured left).
If Novak Djokovic (pictured right) plays at the Australian Open, will he be a ratings hit? (Getty Images)

OPINION

As marriages go, the Australian Open's relationship with Channel 9 could be best described as getting off to a rocky start as a former lover looked on and laughed.

Channel 9 secured the tennis rights at around the same time Channel 7 was inheriting the cricket deal in a straight sport-for-sport swap in 2019/20.

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Seven christened the arrangement by whinging and moaning about its new partner not long after jumping into bed together.

Furious Seven CEO James Warburton famously labelled Cricket Australia "the most incompetent administration I’ve ever worked with" and threatened to pull the plug on the $450m deal, alleging CA was over promising and under delivering on the Big Bash League.

Due to the Covid outbreak heading into the 2020/21 season, the BBL was racked by a lack of star power due to the dwindling number of international players headed our way.

CA and Seven eventually kissed and made up and record ratings followed as first India and then England helped deliver a compelling Test series, mitigating any hit the BBL may have taken.

Nine, the home of cricket for four decades, saved millions by ditching the bat and ball for tennis but could not match the viewing figures Seven previously provided, as they were more than happy to point out.

Last year's ratings dropped 30 per cent year-on-year and predictions for this year's tournament were conservative.

Will Novak Djokovic's boost Aus Open ratings?

That's until jab dodger Novak Djokovic decided to enter a five-setter with the Australian government, attempting to serve and volley his way around the visa regulations as he chases a 10th Australian Open title.

The World No.1 is either a villain or some sort of anti-hero depending on which side of the net you sit, but he will be required viewing should he suit up at Melbourne Park.

"People will be watching his games either to support him or hope he crashes out," tvblackbox.com.au's viewers' advocate Steve Molk told Yahoo Sport Australia.

Novak Djokovic (pictured) attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. (Photo by MARTIN KEEP/AFP via Getty Images)

"If he doesn’t play, the audience boycott would be small-to-insignificant. Ditto if he does play.

"He’s the No.1 in the world and top seeded at this event. He’s a drawcard and now more than ever for different reasons.

"Is a grand slam event still a grand slam if the No.1 isn’t allowed to play?"

That's why Australian Open organisers, headed by their eager-to-please-the-players CEO Craig Tiley, have done everything but fly Djokovic's plane to the country to ensure he suits up.

It's an all-in gamble that will either deliver near-record ratings - or see heads roll at the highest level.

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