The 2022 Australian Open Begins . . . Without World Number One (And Hublot Ambassador) Novak Djokovic
It seems that my entire world has been following the Australian Open tennis saga over the last couple of weeks – even people who generally do not follow tennis. So as the first Grand Slam of the tennis calendar 2022 gets underway this week, I’d like to briefly examine Novak Djokovic as he relates to our watch world.
The previous Seiko ambassador – who went to the Japanese giant from Audemars Piguet – signed up with Hublot last year, an announcement the Nyon-based brand made in late August 2021. Djokovic had been a Seiko ambassador since 2014, with the renewed contract between the world-class athlete and the world-class watch brand running out at the end of 2020.
I don’t know why Djokovic and Seiko didn’t continue together as it seemed to work on many levels from my perspective. The move to Hublot was shocking to me, though, as Hublot’s LVMH sister brand TAG Heuer is making some serious moves into tennis – including a partnership with Naomi Osaka, which was announced at this time last year – despite Rolex’s dominance of the sport in terms of marketing and ambassadorships. My esteemed “tennis and timepieces” colleague and dear friend Miguel Seabra told me that TAG Heuer’s newfound love of the white sport has a lot to do with its young CEO’s love for it.
While Hublot has undoubtedly already had a toe in tennis waters, with partnerships with Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, and Borna Ćorić, and Wimbledon 2019 women’s champion Simona Halep, the brand seems to be going all in with the acquisition of 20-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic, Coronavirus, and the Australian Open 2022
But now Djokovic, a controversial figure in tennis due mainly to his temper and questionable behavior in the COVID era, has made a serious misstep resulting in a ten-day legal process in Australia over whether he would be able to stay for the tournament he has won the last three years running – three out of nine Australian Open titles of his career – and, finally, deportation.
Djokovic is an anti-vaxxer, which would make international travel for any mere mortal difficult (if not impossible). However, despite the Australian Open’s leadership saying that participants must be fully vaccinated, it made an exemption for Djokovic, a decision, only later revealed to the public, that was based on Djokovic’s “recent Coronavirus infection.”
Arriving in Melbourne on January 5, 2022, from Spain, Djokovic was detained and questioned by Australian federal officials at the airport before being sent to a quarantine hotel. Apparently in Victoria, Australia, a previous coronavirus infection is not valid for vaccination exemption.
Djokovic appealed the decision, and an Australian judge reinstated his visa five days later. Documentation presented during those legal proceedings showed that he tested positive for a Coronavirus infection on December 16, 2021, in Belgrade, Serbia. Social media postings however showed that he had attended two public events on the same day and another the next day, where he presented awards to children. A French reporter with L’Equipe came forward to explain that he had conducted an interview with the tennis player on December 18 and was not informed of the positive testing.
Voices in the media – and everywhere else – certainly then got loud about whether Djokovic had falsified information on his entry form to Australia. Either way, there was no way out of this for Djokovic without seriously damaging his reputation and endangering sponsorship contracts. Djokovic acknowledged mistakes and made excuses.
Australia’s immigration minister finally revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, January 14, three days before the Australian Open was due to start. On Sunday, January 16, he was deported, quashing his quest for a record twenty-first Grand Slam title – currently he is tied at 20 with both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – and a tenth Australian Open title. The possibility exists that Djokovic could be barred from entering Australia for the next three years according to the country’s laws on visa cancellations. Seeing as the current world number one is already 34 years old, that might make any more bids for a Grand Slam title during his active career quite a bit more difficult.
Djokovic’s future might be complicated as I could imagine other countries possibly following suit if he does not get vaccinated. And if he does not clean up his act he will be risking sponsorship contracts. See Maria Sharapova’s release from her contract with Hublot LVMH sibling TAG Heuer in November 2016 following the doping scandal that forced her to take a one-year break from tennis (which she never quite recovered from).
It will be interesting to see what – if anything – Hublot does in the wake of what I believe is scandalous, untrustworthy behavior.