Novak Djokovic is often a sad sight on a tennis court. He is consistently brilliant, playing with speed and agility that few can match, yet the crowd is not with him.
He often has to raise his arms in an appeal for cheers after pulling off a shot so good it surprises even him. After winning matches he does an odd little stage routine that involves throwing his hands from his heart to the crowd on all four sides of the court.
It looks like an awkward imitation of the flourish to all four sides that Andre Agassi used to do for crowds that had needed no urging to cheer for him. Djokovic wants to be liked and until this week it was hard to see why so many people who like tennis do not like him.
His personality and his play lack the charisma of his great contemporaries, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but his achievements now equal or exceed theirs. Maybe it is just his looks, the lupine face, the eyes too close together, the creases in the shirt and shorts too neat on a slender frame that never seems to sweat. Surely it is not just that.
Whatever it is, it means fans never forgive or forget his occasional acts of anger or frustration on court, which most players display at times. Few will now ever forget or forgive his attempt to defy a vaccination rule for the Australian Open this week and nor should they.
It is embarrassing enough for a tennis supporter that any of its best exponents subscribe to anti-vaccination thinking. But what was truly appalling was Djokovic's attempt to defy a rule that fellow players had to observe. Young Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas is also anti-vax but he had said he would get a jab if he had to for the Aussie Open.
Sport is well accustomed to arbitrary rules of its own making that can seem unnecessary. In fact, sport is a creation of rules that restrict what players may do. But there is really only one rule that matters – the one that says favouritism is not allowed. The rules must be the same for all.
The vaccination exemption granted to Djokovic defied explanation. He offered no explanation for it when he triumphantly announced it on Wednesday. Had his visa not been rejected by the Australian Federal Border Force when he arrived at Melbourne airport late that night, the stage would have been set for the most hostile reception any sporting figure has probably received anywhere.
The jeers from all sides of the stadium would have been thunderous from the moment he stepped on court until the moment he departed. Umpires would have struggled to maintain silence while the ball was in play.
The hostility would have completely overshadowed the event, dominating its coverage, affecting his opponents as well, and would probably take the gloss off the victory for any player who knocked him out of the tournament.
If Djokovic could not foresee this reception, or if he was willing to face it, his narcissism must rank with that of the inciter of the riot in Washington a year ago this week. It is harder to explain why Tennis Australia would run this risk.
Djokovic has never been a big tournament drawcard, he is neither a hero like Nadal nor a rogue like Nick Kyrgios who is hard to resist watching. Djokovic is superbly, supremely boring. When he was refusing to say whether he would be in the Aussie Open this year I doubt anyone with tickets cared.
In fact I'd be surprised if he still has much hunger for the game after what happened last year. As an avid watcher, my biggest sporting disappointment of 2021 was the US Open final in September. Djokovic was on the verge of an achievement I thought I'd never see.
To win all four major tournaments in the same year - the original meaning of the "Grand Slam" - hasn't been done in men's tennis for more than 50 years. When Djokovic won in Melbourne last year, then beat Nadal in the French Open, the feat became imaginable. But to say so out loud would be tempting fate.
After winning Wimbledon he still refused to discuss what might happen in New York. Every match in a tournament is a potential upset for a champion.
In New York he got all the way to the final – and tanked. The Holy Grail was almost in his grasp and he couldn't find his game. The crowd got behind him for once and tearfully he thanked them for it afterwards.
It would have been a good time to finish.