A look at Novak Djokovic’s chaotic 2022 season, as he heads into the French Open
After a turbulent start to the 2022 season, Novak Djokovic appears to have finally gotten back on track in time for the French Open.
With a newly earned Italian Open trophy in hand, Djokovic arrives in Paris looking to defend his title and continue his reign at world No. 1.
It has been a staggering turnaround for Djokovic in the past month.
For much of the early part of the year, it was uncertain how much he would be able to play due to his very public unvaccinated status. Djokovic, who turns 35 on Sunday, arrived at the Australian Open in January and quickly found himself at the center of a global media storm and legal battle. Ultimately, his visa was revoked by the Australian government and he was deported before play got underway. He then watched as the Grand Slam title record was broken by Rafael Nadal in Melbourne, and in February, he was briefly suggested atop the rankings by Daniil Medvedev.
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Prior to April, Djokovic had played in just one tournament (a quarterfinal run in Dubai). But he was able to play in four tournaments during the European clay-court swing leading into the French Open, and has made significant progress on the court throughout. Last week he won his first title of the year in Rome, and he seems to be surging at just the right time. He will open play in Paris against Yoshihito Nishioka.
If you’d like a refresher on Djokovic’s chaotic year, here is a timeline of the events that led up to the present:
May 15, 2022: Djokovic wins his first title of 2022 at the Italian Open
Djokovic proved he had rediscovered his form on clay with a dominant performance in Rome, defeating top-10 players Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to the final. He held off then-No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-0, 7-6 (5) in a rematch of the 2021 French Open title match.
Djokovic. Is. BACK 🙌@DjokerNole | @InteBNLdItalia | #IBI22 pic.twitter.com/HSSHQ4gh4l
— ATP Tour (@atptour) May 15, 2022
Djokovic didn’t drop a set throughout the week. He later told reporters he was happy about his clay preparation leading into the year’s second major.
“I couldn’t ask for a better lead-up to Roland Garros really,” Djokovic said. “Serbian Open finals, really working my way through the tournament physically. Then Madrid, better performances, but still maybe not as sharp in those decisive moments. And here everything kind of came together and clicked.
“I’m going to Paris with definitely confidence and good feelings about my chances there.”
His semifinal victory over Ruud marked his 1,000th career victory on tour.
April 24, 2022: Djokovic reaches his first final of the year
Playing in front of an adoring crowd in his hometown of Belgrade at the Serbia Open, Djokovic advanced to his first final since the Paris Masters in November. Djokovic lost the opening set in all three of his victories en route to the title match. He did that again in the final but, despite forcing a decider and having the distinct home-court advantage, Djokovic appeared to have nothing left in the final set and lost to Andrey Rublev, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6 -0.
April 12, 2022: Djokovic makes his return to competition
Playing in his first tournament since Dubai in February and in just his second event of the year, Djokovic lost in three sets in his opener at Monte Carlo to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, then-ranked No. 46 in the world. Djokovic later told reporters he “ran out of gas completely” by the third set.
“I was just physically, completely — I collapsed. You know, I couldn’t move anymore. … Obviously disappointing to lose a match and to feel this way on the court.
“But again, I’m not gonna stop here. I’m going to keep going and hopefully build my form for Roland Garros. You know, that’s the big goal of the clay season.”
March 21, 2022: Djokovic reclaims the No. 1 ranking
Despite not being able to play at Indian Wells, Djokovic took back the world’s top ranking following Medvedev’s third-round loss to Gael Monfils at the tournament.
Medvedev’s reign atop the rankings lasted just three weeks. “Is it better to be No. 1 for let’s say one week in your life or never touch it? You know, I think it’s still better to at least touch it,” Medvedev said after the loss to Monfils.
March 9, 2022: Djokovic announces he is out of BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open
Djokovic tweeted that he would not be playing in Indian Wells or in Miami due to the vaccine regulations in place required for entrance to the United States:
While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel. The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments 👊
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 9, 2022
Both tournaments released statements following Djokovic’s announcement. “We understood from the beginning that Novak’s participation at the Miami Open was determinant on his entry into the United States, which we knew would be a long shot,” said James Blake, tournament director of the Miami Open.
March 1, 2022: Djokovic reveals he is no longer working with longtime coach
In a post on his website, Djokovic announced he and Marian Vajda had “agreed to end their partnership” after 15 years and 20 major titles together. Djokovic said the decision was made after the 2021 ATP Finals in November.
“Marian has been by my side during the most important and memorable moments in my career,” Djokovic said in the statement. “Together we have achieved some incredible things and I am very grateful for his friendship and dedication over the last 15 years. While he might be leaving the professional team he will always be family and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done .”
Djokovic later shared a similar message on his Instagram account.
Feb 28, 2022: Djokovic falls to No. 2 in ATP rankings
Djokovic was replaced by Daniil Medvedev after his quarterfinal loss in the Dubai Championships. His latest stay in the top spot began on Feb. 3, 2020, and Djokovic’s total of 361 weeks there are the most for any man since the tour’s computerized rankings began in 1973.
Feb 21, 2022: Djokovic wins his first match of the year
Djokovic defeated Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3 to open the Dubai Championships. “I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and a half, three months,” Djokovic said on court. “Of course, there were moments when I played great, there were moments when I made a couple of unforced errors in a row uncharacteristically. But it’s normal to expect that [in my] first match after a while.”
Three days later, he loses 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely in the quarterfinals.
Feb 15, 2022: Djokovic says he will opt out of future Grand Slams with vaccine mandates
In his first interview after being deported from Australia, Djokovic reiterated his stance on not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he would opt out of playing in future majors that would require him getting inoculated. “Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” he told the BBC.
Jan. 16, 2022: Djokovic looses appeal, out of Australian Open
Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made earlier by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.
Jan 6, 2022: Djokovic denied entry into Australia; visa canceled
After being detained for about eight hours at the airport upon arrival, the 20-time major winner is denied entry to the country and his visa is canceled. The Australian Border Force says Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements. Health Minister Greg Hunt says the visa cancellation followed a review of Djokovic’s medical exemption — which was expected to shield him from the strict COVID-19 vaccination regulations in place — by border officials who looked “at the integrity and the evidence behind it. “
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweets: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.”
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
The tennis star is brought to a hotel used to house immigration detainees in Carlton, an inner-northern suburb of Melbourne, where he remains for four nights. Fans gather in protest outside the hotel.
Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, takes to Twitter to share her thoughts on the situation.
Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband. I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening. 🙏
— Jelena Djokovic (@jelenadjokovic) January 7, 2022
Jan. 4, 2022: Djokovic announces he is heading Down Under with medical exemption
Djokovic reveals he will compete at the tennis season’s opening Grand Slam event after receiving a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He posts a photo of himself at an airport on Instagram with a caption that reads, in part: “I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission.” Tennis Australia follows with a statement confirming Djokovic is on his way to the country with a medical exemption that has been “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”
Neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia reveals the basis for his exemption. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says a “handful” of exemptions had been granted out of 26 applications from players or others.
Dec 29, 2021: Djokovic pulls out of ATP Cup
Days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney, Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup. No reason is given.
“Novak Djokovic has officially withdrawn from the ATP Cup in Sydney, we have no update as yet on his plans for the Australian Open,” a Tennis Australia spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Dec 22, 2021: Djokovic tests negative
According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
Dec 18, 2021: Djokovic does interview and photo shoot for L’Equipe
Knowing he tested positive, Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe. He acknowledges weeks later: “On reflection, this was an error of judgment.”
Dec 17, 2021: Djokovic attends Belgrade event
The nine-time Australian Open champion attends an event in Belgrade, Serbia, honoring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, had taken an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received a positive PCR result after the event.
Dec 16, 2021: Djokovic tests positive
Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19 in Serbia, although that is not public knowledge until it is revealed by court documents in January. He later says he did not know the result until Dec. 17
Dec 14, 2021: Djokovic attends a basketball game
The tennis star takes in a professional basketball game in Belgrade, Serbia. He is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive for COVID-19.
June 2020: The Adria Tour is called off, Djokovic contracts COVID-19
Djokovic announces that he and his wife, Jelena, have tested positive for COVID-19 after he played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with no social distancing or masking required amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Adria Tour is canceled as Djokovic is the fourth player to test positive for the illness after participating in the matches held in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.