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The Serve: Zverev frontrunner but wants Djokovic in Melbourne, fears for Peng Shaui

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23rd November, 2021

Novak Djokovic is being coy about his plans for the Australian Open, Olympic champion Alexander Zverev is celebrating the best season of his career, while the tennis world reaches out for Peng Shuai.

Djokovic, the nine-time Australian Open champion, has been left in no doubt about the playing requirements after tournament director Craig Tiley over the weekend confirmed the Open’s policy that unvaccinated players won’t be allowed to compete at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic, poised on 20 career Grand Slams with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, hasn’t been willing to reveal his vaccination status as he believes it’s a personal matter.

“We’ll see,” the Serb said when asked at the ATP Finals in Turin.

“I haven’t been talking to them (Australian Open organisers), to be honest. I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be. Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Tiley said in support of the Victorian government’s health orders: “Our patrons will need to be vaccinated. All the staff working the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated, but when we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated — they’ve done a magnificent job with that — it’s the right thing to do.”

Andrea Gaudenzi, the chairman of the men’s tour, revealed last week that the vaccination rate for the top 100 men’s singles players was “above 80 per cent”.

“We are moving toward 90 per cent, 95 per cent of fully vaccinated,” Gaudenzi said. “A lot will do it in the off-season with one shot.”

Djokovic is on the cusp of becoming the all-time Grand Slam leader after winning three Grand Slams this year, while also making it past Federer for most weeks spent as world No.1 on his record seventh year-end top ranking.


“It was a great season, no doubt,” he said.

“I did not play many tournaments, but still managed to end the year at number one for the seventh time, broke records for the year-end number one, historic number one, won three out of [the] four Slams.”

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

“He should be there”
If Djokovic decides against making the trip for the Australian Open, then Zverev would be one of the leading contenders after capping a momentous season by winning the inaugural Turin edition of the ATP Finals.

The 24-year-old German has been in sizzling form since winning Olympic gold in Tokyo in August. Zverev has won 31 of 35 matches in the second half of this year, the last of which was a comfortable 6-4, 6-4 victory against the US Open champion, Daniil Medvedev, in the Turin final.

Now in the confirmed absence of Federer, sidelined with a knee injury, and the uncertainty over Djokovic’s participation, a first Grand Slam title beckons for Zverev in Melbourne.

Zverev has acknowledged that his chances of success would increase if Djokovic fails to show.


“I hope he’s able to play,” Zverev told reporters after his triumph over Medvedev. “At the end of the day I’m No.3 in the world, so if he doesn’t play, it’s easier to win the tournament. This is obvious. Also he’s No.1 in the world, so he should be there.”

Having followed his semi-final victory against Djokovic with a win over the Russian, Zverev became the first player since Andre Agassi in 1990 to claim the season-ending championships by overcoming the world’s top two players back to back.

Where is Peng Shuai?
Undoubtedly the biggest story in tennis has been the whereabouts of China’s former doubles world number one, Peng Shuai.

Peng has been out of the public eye since November 2, when she made allegations of sexual abuse against Zhang Gaoli – China’s former vice-premier and a high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party – on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka and Roger Federer all voiced their concern for Peng’s welfare since her apparent disappearance and WTA chief executive Steve Simon even said he was willing to pull all tournaments from China if her sexual assault allegations were not properly investigated.


But over the weekend Peng insisted she was “safe and well” in a video call with the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach.

“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing. She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,” the IOC said in a statement.

“That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”

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Back on the court, Garbiñe Muguruza became the first Spaniard to win the WTA Finals, with a straight-sets victory over Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.

The number six seed battled back from a break down in the second set to win four games in a row and claim the 10th WTA title of her career.

And finally, Australia’s tennis darling Ash Barty has become just the fifth woman to be crowned world No.1 at the end of three consecutive years.

The Wimbledon champion has not competed for more than two months but on the back of her five titles this season no-one came close to catching her as the year’s world’s best player.

The Women’s Tennis Association officially confirmed that Barty had earned the prized accolade.

Barty celebrates 95 consecutive weeks at the top of the game and joins all-time greats Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Chris Evert as the only players to finish year-end No.1 for three straight years.


It augurs well for Barty’s quest to become the first Australian woman to win her national Open in January since Chris O’Neil in 1978.