For Djokovic in Australia, a Complicated Road Has a Familiar Destination

Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, though, Djokovic, 33, goes toward the heat. He knows the hazards that may bring. But he is willing to manage the consequences of his behavior, which could involve trying to stage a tennis event in the first months of the pandemic; on-court outbursts, including one that led to his disqualification at the U.S. Open; or pressuring the Australian Open tournament organizers on behalf of 72 players who ended up confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days after arrival in Melbourne because on their flights they had been exposed to people with the coronavirus. His recommendation for an early end to their lockdown and access to tennis courts at private homes, among other impossible-to-meet demands, garnered widespread ridicule.

“I think Novak feels an obligation as the top-ranked player in the world to be a voice for the players,” said Craig Tiley, who is the chief executive of Tennis Australia, which runs the Open, and who fielded those demands, rejected nearly all of them, then did his best to carry out Djokovic damage control.

In spite of it all, this tournament has given Djokovic what he so often finds when he plays in Melbourne — the chance to right his ship and jump start his tennis year. He will play the winner of the semifinal between Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final on Sunday. A victory then would give Djokovic a third consecutive Australian Open singles championship and a record ninth over all. He has never lost in a final here.

The script this year has hardly followed its traditional form.

Djokovic angered local residents with his pretournament demands, and the rowdy support he often receives from fans here nearly disappeared, except from pockets of native Serbians who faithfully show up each year to watch their compatriot. He injured an abdominal muscle during his third-round match and appeared on the edge of elimination before he prevailed in five sets.

Djokovic has used the injury and those of other players to ignite another controversy, citing them in his criticism of the people who run professional tennis and insisting that special arrangements are going to have to be made for the tours to continue amid all the travel restrictions and fears related to the spread of the virus. He raised the possibility of a series of bubbles, like the one the N.B.A. created last year in Florida, arguing that travel-related quarantines would compromise players’ safety because they would have to compete after getting limited training time.

“There’s too many injuries,” Djokovic said. “A majority of the players just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine before most of the tournaments.”

That may or may not be true, and plenty of players cannot afford to forgo a season. Djokovic, who has collected nearly $150 million in prize money plus many lucrative endorsements, has no such worries.

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