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Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand against Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia during their Men's Singles Second Round match on day three of The Championships Wimbledon 2022 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on Wednesday in London.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

After he’d been annihilated at Centre Court by Novak Djokovic on Wednesday, someone asked Thanasi Kokkinakis what he thought was behind the Serb’s “intensity.”

Kokkinakis looks like a member of Men At Work and sounds more Australian than a talking wallaby.

Could Australia’s rough treatment of Djokovic this January – allowing him in for the Open, detaining him because he is unvaccinated, then kicking him out before he could play – have anything to do with it?

“Yeah, hopefully it did,” Kokkinakis said. “Because if that’s not his top intensity, I’m going to get chopped even more next time.”

Djokovic seemed hurt by the same question: “I don’t have any grudge over anybody really coming from Australia. … [Kokkinakis and I] get along really well off the court.”

Since they’re such good buds, what’s Djokovic like in the locker room?

“I don’t know,” Kokkinakis said. “The seeds have a better room than I do. They’re at the top locker room and I’m with the plebs at the bottom.”

Oh, the pros. They really are just like the rest of us.

If Djokovic was telling a fib, he did a good job of hiding it. In the press conference.

Elsewhere, it’s very clear that he feels assailed in a changed tennis world. He can’t stop talking about following your heart and making the hard choice.

Given half a chance at a mic on-court on Wednesday, Djokovic waxed on about his “inner child” carrying him through when “things are not as smooth and easy as you would like them to be.”

I wonder what that’s all about?

Djokovic’s vaccine stance is nonsensical, but it’s still hard not to empathize. Just as he was beginning to get the respect he is due as an all-time athlete, his pandemic politics have once again dropped him into the role of oddball and outsider.

The result is a bizarre sort of year – one he must spend in the tennis wilderness, while still showing up for work most days.

This year’s Wimbledon is a bit of a lark for him. Because of the Russia ban, the tournament will confer no ranking points.

Djokovic already missed Australia over his refusal to be vaccinated. He will miss the U.S. Open for the same reason.

Majors are the place where you rack up ranking points. In 2023, Djokovic will only carry over the ones he earned by making the quarters at the French Open.

“He could win [Wimbledon], and then he could be ranked 40th in the world in a few months,” commentator John McEnroe said. “It’s crazy.”

If the ATP and WTA hoped to dissuade players from showing up in London by yanking away the points, they failed. All they have succeeded in doing is making it likely next year’s rankings will be knocked into a cocked hat.

This is where Djokovic has an opportunity to get his own back. You slap a player like him down 20 or 25 ranking spots and he’s going to badly screw up the marketing optics of some very big events.

You got someone you want to promote? Some next big thing you’ve plastered on a bunch of posters in the subway? Djokovic will beat him in the second round instead of the semi-final. Then he’ll beat your next best guy. And so on.

If he is allowed back to all the majors next year, a couple of them could be routs. Because of those skewed match-ups, he will be the player you want to watch every single day.

Rules are rules and every country has the absolute right to enforce their own. But if anyone is enjoying watching Djokovic getting pushed to tennis’s edges, that will only have worked for a short while.

It’s not clear it’s even working right now. Djokovic reminds you of the Miles Davis quote about absences: “It’s not the notes you play. It’s the notes you don’t play.”

In any major that happens without him, Djokovic is the note that wasn’t played.

Despite all the hype about the year Rafael Nadal is having, Djokovic is still the best player in the men’s game until proven otherwise. He lost to Nadal in Australia because he wasn’t there. Then he lost to Nadal in Paris because no one beats Nadal in Paris. London will be where we prove or disprove the current Nadal hypothesis.

Djokovic seems keenly aware of that fact. He always plays like he’s on a mission, but on Wednesday, he was operating at a different level.

Kokkinakis has a lot of weapons. He spent most of the match deploying his head moves. There was ‘the bemused shake;’ and ‘the blank stare;’ and ‘the look-hard-at-shoelaces;’ and the ‘stare up at God and ask why.’

What Kokkinakis did not show off was any useful tennis, which is not to say he was bad. Just that Djokovic was preposterously good. It was the rare instance of a near-perfect match, but all the quality was exclusive to one side.

As it was about to end 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, Kokkanakis fell over while pursuing another impossible shot. Whilst lying there, he chucked his racquet away and splayed himself on the ground – international body language for ‘I give up.’

“He’s a wall,” Kokkinakis said. “It’s playing a wall.”

It’s not the first time that analogy has been used to describe Djokovic, but rarely has it been said with such conviction.

More than two hours after his match, people were thronged five deep outside the media centre, hoping to catch sight of Djokovic doing his stand-ups on the balcony above.

This is a recurring ritual at Wimbledon and has a nice, Renaissance feel – the crowd staring up beatifically, the star looking down magnanimously. They were still waiting when I passed by.

Clearly, some people still love Djokovic, though perhaps fewer than he would like.

He may feel hard done by. Most of us would in his shoes. He may even feel persecuted.

If so, he only refers to it elliptically and always with a smile. That’s the smartest thing he’s done all year. Complaining doesn’t help. If revenge is the goal, it will be much more effective if it’s done on the court.

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