Novak Djokovic at centre of 'unfair' controversy after Australian Open triumph

The tennis world is questioning whether the 22-time grand slam champion was afforded preferential treatment.

Novak Djokovic, pictured here after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the Australian Open for a 10th time.
Novak Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the Australian Open for a 10th time. Image: Getty

Tennis fans and commentators are questioning whether Novak Djokovic received 'unfair' special treatment throughout his run to a 10th Australian Open title. The Serbian star captured a 22nd career major and will move back to World No.1 after downing Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in the final on Sunday night.

However controversy has erupted in the aftermath after it emerged that Djokovic is the only Australian Open champion to have played every match in one tournament at night time. While the Serbian star's rivals were forced to endure some brutal conditions throughout the day sessions at Melbourne Park, Djokovic was afforded the luxury of playing all seven of his matches in the cooler conditions at night.

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The perfect example occurred in the semi-finals when Tsitsipas played at 2.30pm against Karen Khachanov, while Djokovic later took on Tommy Paul at 7.30pm. As leading tennis writer Ben Rothenburg pointed out on Sunday night, there was a distinct lack of 'star power' in Djokovic's section of the draw, meaning officials and broadcasters would have been keen for him to play at prime time to draw bigger crowds and TV audiences.

But Catherine Whittaker and David Law of The Tennis Podcast were among the many to question whether the schedule was unfair for Djokovic's opponents. “Top players get preferential treatment in terms of scheduling. Goodness knows,” Whittaker said. “This is not news. This is not Djokovic specific by any means, but it is a bit extreme.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody who played all seven matches at night before (at the Australian Open). Doesn’t there reach a stage of the tournament where sporting integrity steps in?

“Both his last two losses (at the Australian Open) came in day sessions… I still think he’d be in the final if he’d played every match in the day session, I’m just saying it makes a difference. It’s not nothing.”

When asked if the scheduling was fair, Law responded: “Maybe not. That’s just the way it’s always been one way or another. I think they have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable.”

Tennis fans took to social media to bemoan the telling detail. Some labelled it a 'joke' and a 'farce' from Australian Open organisers.

Was Novak Djokovic afforded special treatment?

Djokovic is now on a 28-match winning streak at the Australian Open, with his last loss at the grand slam coming way back in 2018 against Hyeon Chung in the quarter-finals. Coincidentally, that match was played in the day time.

That same year Djokovic spoke out in defence of Roger Federer after the Swiss Maestro came under fire for his night-heavy schedule. World No.1 at the time, Djokovic was forced to play a number of day matches because Federer kept getting the prime time spot.

“In the end of the day, in a way he deserves the special treatment because he’s six-time champion of Australian Open and arguably the best player ever,” Djokovic said at the time. “If he doesn’t have it, who is going to have it?

Novak Djokovic, pictured here celebrating with the trophy after winning the Australian Open for the 10th time.
Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning the Australian Open for the 10th time. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

"People want to see him play on the centre court, and they want to see him play in showtime, the best hours, which is 7:30 at night in Rod Laver Arena. I understand [the criticism] because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favoured year after year in certain tournaments.

"On the other side, you have to understand that Federer is a driving force of tennis in terms of revenue, in terms of attention. [Other] guys are also benefiting from tennis, because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”

Djokovic's victory on Sunday night also extended his winning streak in Australia to 41 matches (including at events outside the Australian Open). It also allowed him to equal Rafa Nadal's men's record of 22 grand slam titles.

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