Novak Djokovic's tumultuous 2022 could add "another year or two" to his career, believes Eurosport's Mats Wilander.
Djokovic missed two of the four Grand Slams this year - the Australian and the US Opens - due to his unvaccinated Covid-19 status, but did win Wimbledon and the ATP Finals title.
Those two major absences meant he has been without the same number of best-of-five-set matches he would usually expect in a calendar year, but Wilander feels the emotional fallout from those situations - particularly the drawn-out saga in Melbourne which saw Djokovic contained in a hotel while his visa was decided - could mean Djokovic carries on his career longer to make up for what he missed in 2022.
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Speaking to Eurosport about Djokovic's up-and-down year, Wilander said: "Novak has been so close to being allowed to go to the Australian Open and so close to being allowed to go to the US Open, that it would have never affected his training blocks or his practice sessions.
"And I think because he wasn't allowed to go, I think obviously physically it might be a tough thing for him to play five sets, seven matches, but he can deal with that.
"But emotionally, I feel like he's added another year or two to his career because he must probably be slightly upset about what happened. But obviously Novak understands completely what it is that happened and there's nothing you can do about it. And is it right or wrong? It doesn't really matter.... So I think he's able to understand that.
"But I think that he looks so fresh, he looks so good. I can't quite understand or believe that he did not win the tournament in Paris [Djokovic lost in the final to Holger Rune]. I was shocked that he didn't win that. But he played good enough and you can't win everything.
"Then, in Turin, he's better than everybody else. I mean, it was just a perfect storm for him and he was in the middle of it and he was just flying along. And you're not going to touch him when he's in that mood.
"Am I surprised that the younger guys can't hit through him? Sometimes I'm a little surprised, but it's more Novak.
"It's insane what he can do in the tennis court with his movement and his defence and most of all, his will to win the 'small matches' to him who is maybe the greatest player of all time.
"He finds a way to just make it mean everything. I'm so impressed."

The No. 1 battle in 2022

Carlos Alcaraz ended 2022 as the world No. 1, but some put forward the caveat that Djokovic missed two Grand Slams, and saw his points at Wimbledon not count with the ATP having stripped the tournament of them following the exclusion of Russian and Belarussian players.
Wilander agreed Djokovic had been the victim of those circumstances, but feels ultimately that everything was "all fair".
"Yes, the circumstances have stolen the world number one ranking from him," Wilander said.

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 18: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates the victory during his Round Robin Singles match against Daniil Medvedev during day six of the Nitto ATP Finals at Pala Alpitour on November 18, 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Shi Tang/Getty

Image credit: Eurosport

"But I think again we have to start thinking why does it have to be important to be number one in the world at the end of the year? Novak is clearly number one in the world for a few months in 2022 and Rafa Nadal was number one for another few months in 2022. And Carlos Alcaraz was number one for other reasons.
"He [Alcaraz] was number one in terms of the excitement that he brought and then he was able to deal with the pressure that he brought on himself and win the US Open where he had to win to be No. 1 in the world. So I think that he deserves to be number one.
"The other guys in terms of the year they had...how do you take away a Wimbledon title and the ATP finals from Novak, or the Australian Open and the French Open for Nadal? So Novak and Rafa consistently weren't there all year but most of that has to do with Novak's situation of not being allowed to play and Rafa, with his situation not being allowed to play [through injury]. So I think it's all fair."

GOAT race back on

Wilander also thinks Djokovic's return for the Australian Open this January is vital for sustained interest in the 'GOAT race', with the Serbian and Nadal now ensconced in a battle to win the most majors after Roger Federer retired his name from the game with 20 Grand Slams - two short of Nadal, and one short of Djokovic.
"It's obviously really important for him [Djokovic's Australian Open inclusion]," Wilander said. "We had to guess last time he wasn't allowed in Australia. He must have been heartbroken. We have no idea how he felt because he was very good at hiding it.
"For the game, this is most probably the most single important piece of news since Covid-19 hit the first time, because we were stuck in this race between the biggest, greatest three players of all time on the men's side, with three different contrasting styles coming up at different times. Roger pushing the envelope, Nadal pushing Roger and then Novak coming to kind of 'spoil the party'.
"If Novak had not been allowed [to play unvaccinated], the history of our game would have become completely irrelevant. The numbers of Grand Slams would have become completely irrelevant if Novak wasn't able to play anymore.
"For most people I say that we really would like to know who we can label No. 1 of all time.
"So I think it's really important for the press and the space that we get in the media as a professional sport, I think is enhanced massively by having that race come back and being alive again."
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