Former doubles world No 1 Rennae Stubbs believes Novak Djokovic missing tournaments due to his vaccine stance has helped him dominate in the last few years.
The commentator and analyst, a former coach of Serena Williams, thinks that, while the pandemic “was not a friend” to Djokovic, its impact has “given him longevity.”
Djokovic missed both the Australian Open and the US Open in 2022 due to his decision not to have the Covid-19 vaccine, which was required to enter both countries at the time.
The world No 1 has also missed out on other prestigious tournaments in recent years, such as the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami in both 2022 and 2023.
The 36-year-old has, though, won seven of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments he has entered – claiming three of four in each of the 2021 and 2023 seasons, and one of the two he could play in 2022.
The Serbian triumphed at the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open this year, while he was a runner-up at Wimbledon. He claimed seven titles overall in a stunning 2023 season.
Speaking on an episode of The Rennae Stubbs Tennis Podcast, Stubbs criticised Casper Ruud’s off-season scheduling ahead of 2023 and highlighted how Djokovic playing less has been beneficial.
“What Casper Ruud did, I think that really f****d him up. Last year when he kept playing those [exhibitions] with [Rafael] Nadal like fine, he’s like your idol and you want to go and you probably get paid millions of dollars to go do all of that,” the Australian said.
“But you know then he didn’t play after that and then he was like ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna go to the tournament and I’m gonna play at the Australian Open’. It’s like he needed a break.
“I’m like, ‘Dude you got to pick your schedule a little bit better’, which is why I think Novak, for example, has been able to dominate the last few years. I mean listen, the pandemic was not a friend to him.
“Let’s face it, vaccines and all and not being able to play like three or four Grand Slams that he should have played and probably would have won, but you know what I think it’s given him longevity.
“Even more longevity because he actually was resting his body for a period of that time. So I think it randomly has helped him. I’m sure he’d probably like to have played.”
Ruud played a series of exhibitions against Nadal late in 2022, before missing the start of the 2023 season, which – despite his French Open final run – was disappointing compared to his previous two campaigns.
Stubbs, who won 60 WTA doubles titles including four Grand Slams, has also coached Karolina Pliskova, Samantha Stosur and Eugenie Bouchard. The 52-year-old, who was ranked as high as No 64 in singles, played between 1992 and 2011.