Alas, Djokovic was having none of it. “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said. “But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.
“I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know. Hypothetically, if the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine and there is no vaccine yet.”
What his ‘own thoughts’ are on the subject of vaccination remain unclear, although it’s odd to think of the Serbian, a hugely pragmatic competitor on the court, as someone trawling Facebook for vaccine conspiracy theories or hosting chickenpox parties for the progeny of fellow touring pros.
But Djokovic remains a hugely influential figure in the sport, not just for his suitcases stuffed with grand slams but his role as the president of the ATP Player Council. His anti-vax stance will raise eyebrows for a few news cycles but his attention should probably be focused on Millman’s push for a revamp of the allocations of the spoils in a sport where the trickle-down economy doesn’t tend to make it far past the top 50.
With prizemoney having dried up on account of suspended tours, Djokovic has suggested a sliding scale of donations from top 100 players to those struggling to subsist on the crumbs of the lesser tours.
He and the top five players would donate $47,133 each, while someone like the 43rd ranked Millman would contribute $15,749 as part of an initiative hoped to raise as much as $US14m.
Millman, the likeable 30-year-old Queenslander, has enjoyed success late in his career but has done more than his fair share of sleeping in airports and trying to earn enough to book a room at the next tournament. He nearly retired due to chronic injuries and has proudly become a voice for players whose shoes he used to fill.
His question is: Why now for fresh look at the distribution of the spoils? And why make it a short term fix in a sport so top heavy that the megastars become mega-rich and those on the way up become targets for bookmakers because they offer better financial incentives?
“It’s not a secret – and I’ve made it pretty clear – that I think the [tennis] pay distribution has always been a bit warped,” Millman said on Monday.
“For the standard of tennis that’s out there and for the amount of countries that play competitively and for how big the product of tennis is – because it is a big product, especially globally – the fact that 100 people in the world make money it’s a bit laughable, to be honest.”
He said some of the Australian tour players would be better off applying for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program, which offers $1500 per fortnight, instead of trying to work their way up the rankings, with Australia’s Chris O’Connell, the 116th best player in the world, trying to do just that despite making $US72,921.
“Once you’re outside the top 100, start looking at the prize money and then start adding up what’s involved to live for that year on tour and what’s involved to invest in yourself as a product,” he said. “You start to realise how little money you’re making.”
Sport has been high on promises of reinvention and introspection during the hiatus but when it comes to tennis, a sport that trades so heavily off its blessed elite, Millman’s call for a redistribution of wealth will likely go the way of wooden racquets.